Dani Robbins

Archive for the ‘Non Profit Boards’ Category

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.

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.

 

Wishes for 2016 for the Nonprofit Field

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on December 31, 2015 at 12:49 pm

If you’ve been reading for a while – and if you have, thank you – you know that there are a few things that I find continually, unnecessarily, and routinely crazy making. As such, here are my wishes for our field for this New Year, in the hopes that next year, we can stop doing this stuff and dedicate more time to moving forward our missions and improving our communities.

  1. I wish people would have higher expectations of us. There is an underlying sentiment, usually accompanied by a shrug, of “It’s just a nonprofit.” “Just nonprofits” serve the most disadvantaged among us. I wish, want and need the community to have higher expectations. Not silly jump through hoops expectations that make us crazy but don’t make us stronger. I want real and serious high expectations that our leaders will rise to meet and our field will be stronger for their doing so.
  1. I wish people would stop professing that businesses are better run. Jim Collins said “Social sector leaders are not less decisive than business leaders; they only appear that way to those who fail to grasp the complex governance and diffuse power structure.” In a business the leader can make a unilateral decision and everyone gets in line. Nonprofit leaders don’t have that luxury. In the nonprofit world we have to create buy in and take our Boards, senior staff and sometimes funders along with us on our journey toward greatness. As such, it’s harder. Please, the next time you find yourself about to tell a nonprofit leader why businesses are better run, resist the temptation and remember: different isn’t necessarily better and, more accurately, it’s likely not true.
  1. I wish agencies would spend more time and resources developing their people and their organizations. It’s critical to address our communities’ issues, yet it’s much easier when you have the right people in the right jobs with the right infrastructure, and the right plans under the right leadership. Imagine what you could accomplish if you had clear goals. Imagine if you had Human Resource systems that supported your organizational values, which were set in your strategic plan and are upheld at every level of your organization. Imagine if that plan was supported by a Board Development plan, another plan for raising contributed income and one for developing each member of your team, all of which is coupled with excellent operational policies and processes that protect your agency, serve your clients and impact your community. The combination of each will help you accomplish your true potential. The absence of most or all may mean you’re not only not meeting that potential you may be hurting the people you exist to help.
  1. I wish the people that start a new organization would learn everything they need to know about running one, before they introduce it. I wish they would learn the law as it pertains to their agency, our field and the requirements of both. I wish they would learn everything they can about the issue they hope to impact, the community and its leaders. I wish they would learn how to build a board and attract and keep donors and staff. We all learn as we go, yet and still, I wish the founders of new nonprofits would learn enough to start strong.
  1. I wish each nonprofit executive could see the benefits of collaboration and also the cost of territorialism. If my goal is to make our communities stronger – and it is – then you not sharing information or best practices is at cross purposes with that goal. Now your goal may not be aligned with my goal, but it should be, because your mission certainly is. I believe any process that is in conflict with our goal is a bad process. I once modeled in a vintage fashion show for the local Goodwill. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who said to me some version of “Why are you helping another agency?!” I also routinely took (and still take) phone calls from the leadership of sister agencies who needed capacity building assistance and other leaders took my calls when I needed it. My agency will be stronger when yours is stronger, and we, together, will be that much closer to impacting our collective issues. The opposite is also true, if I only serve to move forward my agency, I am negatively impacting the field I purport to serve.

This list is just a start. I have many more aspirations for our field and the important work we each do to make our world a better place. If we were more strategic, if our goals were better formulated and our systems were better developed, our field would be stronger, and in turn, our communities and our world would be as well.

I believe that anytime you present a problem it is also imperative to present a solution. Since every New Year provides the opportunity to make resolutions, I resolve to continue to work to make our field stronger. I will also – and this is new for me and has the added benefit of making my husband happy to no longer have to listen to how much I miss social justice work – stop turning down interviews and consider going back in the field so I can practice what I have been preaching. Until then (then being defined as the perfect job for me), I will continue to speak, write, teach, train and coach and join with colleagues around the nation and the world to make our field stronger and our reach farther.

What are your wishes for our field and also your resolutions to make them happen? 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.

Thank you!

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on December 15, 2015 at 7:38 am

2015 has been a fabulous year for me and for Non Profit Evolution. Thank you for being a part of it!

I had the chance to do one big project and one small one for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. I have never once regretted drinking the blue BGCA Kool-Aid in 2002. I am honored to continue to work in the movement.

Scott Caine and I introduced Board Builder and together were invited to present its inaugural session at the Columbus Foundation, and in response to overwhelming interest, were invited back to do it again! 188 leaders from over 50 agencies attended. It was awesome!

Rob Greenbaum, Associate Dean at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University was in the audience at one of the Foundation sessions. He and Jozef C. Raadschelders invited me to teach Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations, which allowed me to fulfill a long time goal to teach at the college level. I absolutely love teaching! I knew I would but it is even more fun and more challenging than I thought it would be. The students are smart and interesting, bold and funny. I hope to continue to teach at the Glenn College for many years to come. To have been given this opportunity is an honor and a privilege.

Steven Fields of Huntington Bank invited us to give the keynote at Seeds for Growth and, later, to train some of Huntington’s leaders that serve on community Boards. JobsOhio invited us to do the same.

The Central Ohio’s Association of Fund Raising Professionals invited me to moderate a session on Working with Influential Volunteers and a lunch discussion on small shops.

Community Shares of Mid Ohio invited me to present to their members not once, not twice but three times; I presented Board Development, Engaging the Board you Have as well as Fund Raising is an Art, not a Science. They have agencies from all walks of life, working all over the state. I always enjoy my time in their midst. Community Shares also manages the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network who invited me to present the “So, You Want to Be A Nonprofit Executive?” at their inaugural meeting.

DonorPath’s reach and services exploded and I now have the opportunity to serve a breadth and depth of clients that I could have never reach alone. It has been so much fun to help agencies across the country reach their fund raising goals and to be part of a group that provides low cost solutions to fund raising challenges.

The Executives I coach continue to amaze me with their insight, leadership, bravery and courage. They stand and fight every day to move their missions forward. I am delighted to stand with each one of them.

I’m also so grateful to the Boards who have invited me in to help them strengthen their processes and meet their goals of building stronger and more aligned agencies. 12-20 volunteers at 10-30 agencies that work for free and lean in and lead forward to make our communities stronger. I salute you!

My writing has reached more people than ever. My blog has been viewed over 57,000 times by more than 37,000 leaders in dozens of countries. LinkedIn offered the opportunity to write posts, and my book, co-authored with Maureen Metcalf, Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives has sold more books than ever. I couldn’t be happier and I am so grateful!

Thank you for joining me on my path! I hope we can continue to partner in 2016 to make our field stronger and our communities healthier.

Things that Aren’t Really Free and Don’t Raise Money Anyway

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on November 21, 2015 at 10:33 am

There are three questions that I regularly ask when it comes to fund raising and many other topics as well. The questions are “What is the goal?” “Is this a good use of your time?” and “To what end?”

What is the goal?

When the answer is raising money for an agency, sometimes the goal is not in concert with the actions. I once ran an agency that held a duck race as a fund raiser. I should say I ran an agency that had a duck race in process when I arrived and that once I saw recommended we never do again.

If you’ve never seen a duck race, it really is just that: a race of plastic ducks down a river. People pay $5 each for their ducks and get assigned a number; if their duck wins, they win a prize. Now all of this sounds fine, until you hear the details. The devil is always in the details.

Here are the details: We rented for $1 and then “sold” 8,000 ducks for $5 each.

They – and I’m completely disowning this part- had my Board members selling ducks for $5 a piece at Walmart. My Board members, the pillars of our community whom we (they) should have been treating like gold, honoring and cherishing, and giving meaningful strategic work to do, were at Walmart selling ducks for $5 apiece, and not just them either.

It takes a long time to sell 8,000 ducks, so we also invited service groups to sell ducks on our behalf for which we paid $1 for every duck they sold. If you’re doing the math with me, and I know you are, I’m now down $2 for every $5 we bring in.

8,000 ducks were sold. They came in filthy from whatever river they had most recently been fished out of and needed to be cleaned, stored and have the 8,000 stickers from the prior race removed and 8,000 new stickers added. We borrowed the factory and used volunteers so other than the cost of soliciting and managing those pieces, no additional cost there, but man was it a lot of work!

The prize was a $5,000 cash prize. As you might imagine, it came right off the top and in case you’re wondering was not donated back to the agency. 8,000 ducks at $5 a piece is $40,000, minus the $1 cost per duck, the $1 we paid other groups to sell them, the cash prize and the staff time.

I had two staff, one of whom was an intern (brilliant who I later hired and who we’ll come back to later), that worked nonstop for at least the two months I was there on nothing other than this event, which did not have the agency name in its title. No one even knew the event benefited the agency.

What was the goal?

It was intended to be a fund raiser. Because it didn’t really raise funds, especially once you added in staff time; because no one knew it benefited the agency so we couldn’t even call it a friend raiser; because my BOARD MEMBERS WERE AT WALMART SELLING DUCKS; I recommended we never do the event again.

That is my favorite illustration of “things don’t raise money anyway.’” Now, let’s move on to things that “aren’t really free.” Our intern, later promoted to event planner who was amazing – and also ornery – insisted she stay and physically put together 300 program books for our gala. She printed, copied, hole punched and bound each book by hand. It took forever. It possibly would have been justifiable but it didn’t even save us money. She spent hours on something we could have paid a printer to do for less money in less time.

I cajoled. I teased. I encouraged her to make a different decision. Finally, I insisted, sent her to the printer and then home. If the goal is raising money, spending 10 hours to do something I could pay someone else to do for a fraction of the cost is counter-productive. Had I asked, the answer to my next question would have been no.

“Is this a good use of your time?”

I am consistently amazed at the things people do that are not only not a good use of their time, but are actually other people’s jobs. Weekly, someone tells me about a situation in which they, as the executive, do the work of the board; they, as the board, do the work of the executive. Worse, sometimes they, the executive, do the work of the staff. If you are doing the work of someone who you pay, what are they doing? Also, what are you not doing?

I totally get that it’s easier for you to do it. Here’s the problem with that logic: you will always be the one that does it. If you don’t want to be the one that does it, and if you want to be the kind of leader that develops others, you will have to teach other people how to do it and then allow them to do so.

Boards that are trained to their role and allowed to fulfill their role, do. Ditto for staff. Let them.

Doing other people’s jobs isn’t the only way to “not really free.” When you have a small agency and the CEO is doing basic admin work, such as coding or data entry, there is an opportunity cost. It’s not only the highest paid admin work in town; it’s the actual CEO work that is not getting done. It’s every donor that is not getting cultivated; every public event at which your leader is not being seen; every strategy that is not being considered. This brings me to my last question:

“To what end?”

If the end game is a strong sustainable agency, and your CEO is doing work that you could pay someone else a fraction of the cost to do, that not only isn’t really free, it’s costing you money and opportunity.

If you want to go down a path, it is important to know where it will lead. Sometimes, it’s staff that are doing things that are not within their charts of work, and way below their hourly rate. Sometime it’s volunteers. If the cost of free is high, maybe it’s time to pay someone to do what needs to be done.

I know of agencies that get a variety of things done for free, which is awesome when it works and totally frustrating and disengaging for all involved when it doesn’t. If you can’t get done what you need done, free isn’t working for you and it’s time to do something different.

Free is only free when it gets you what you need. If the cost of free is frustration and disengagement, your actions aren’t aligned with your goal. It’s time for a new decision. Life is about making new mistakes.

What price have you paid for free? Will you share your stories? 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.

For My Executive Director Friends: Three More Things to Stop Doing

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on October 11, 2015 at 10:53 am

As I mentioned in my original post, the fascinating thing about being a consultant and people paying you to make recommendations is that they generally listen to your suggestions. They don’t always implement them but they at least consider them. Friends, on the other hand, call when they’re trying to figure things out, but do they listen? Not so much!

As such, for my many friends who serve in executive leadership roles in nonprofits, here are a few more things that you should stop doing. I hope that in doing so you will find the role more rewarding and also less frustrating.

  1. Postponing your own paycheck

Just to be crystal clear, I’m not talking about unpaid executive directors. I’m talking about executive directors who usually get paid but are not paying themselves this week (or possibly this month or this quarter). I totally understand how it seems reasonable to you to pay your team but not pay yourself. I get that there isn’t enough money in the bank. I get that it’s a cash flow issue. I get that it feels like the right thing to do, but it’s not.

I have been in the room when Board members are told that their execs have made this choice and they are, for the most part, not generally amused. They do not feel it’s honorable. They do not feel it’s noble. They think it’s nuts, dangerous for the agency and a liability for them. And they’re right.

If you truly do not have the cash to pay yourself, work with your Board to come up with a plan. Do not make the decision on your own to forgo your own paycheck in the hopes of saving your agency. It’s not fair or reasonable for your family. It’s outside the bounds of the labor laws. It’s also not your decision to make.

This is an issue to take to your Board. Don’t spring it on them at the last minute. And do not feel like it’s all on you. Nonprofits are run on a shared leadership model. Share the information and work with your Board to come up with a solution.

  1. Personally guarantee anything

You should not personally guarantee a loan for your agency. You should not personally secure an agency credit card, a line of credit or put anything you own up as collateral. You lead but do not own your agency.

This is not your company. Even if it was, companies put systems in place to protect their owners. This is your baby and it is your responsibility but not yours alone. You report to a Board and that Board can – and likely will -make a decision with which you don’t agree. You could quit or get fired tomorrow. If either of those eventualities occur, you will be still be liable for whatever you personally guaranteed.

Don’t do it. Work with your Board and your lending institution to find a solution to secure the resources you need.

  1. Owning the Work of the Board

If you are frustrated with your board, the answer may be looking back at you in the mirror. If they aren’t doing what you want, it may be because you’re doing it. Stop.

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. Yes, I can hear you yelling at me through your computer but it’s still true.

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, dates 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, and offer recommendations, 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.

The CEO role is gratifying and it’s inspiring. It’s also hard and it’s lonely. Sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be. Stopping the above practices can make your difficult job not only a little less difficult, but also a little more rewarding.

What advice do you give your friends in leadership roles? What else would you 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.

3 (not so easy) Steps to Improved Board Engagement

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Strategic Plans on September 11, 2015 at 12:16 pm

The one thing nonprofit leaders have asked me the most about this year is board engagement. (Last year it was fund raising. Go figure.) It’s not enough to build a good board. We also have to engage that board. Great is not a mountain that once you scale it, you’re done. Nothing stays great without commitment. As we all know, there’s always another mountain.

A few years ago I wrote a piece on engaging the board. The information contained within is still true, and today I want to take a deeper dive.

When Boards set expectations, recruit for fit, experience and skill set, provide training to members about their role and then couple that with good board process, a robust committee structure with work assigned as per the agency’s needs and plan to move forward, board members are much more engaged. In the absence of that, the work isn’t aligned so board members sometimes don’t think we need them, know what to do, or understand their role. Here’s a post to illustrate one board member’s experience.

It’s one thing to know what engagement and disengagement look like. It’s another thing to know what to do to get from one to the other.

Step 1 Board Development Committee

The Board President appoints a standing Board Development Committee with a respected committee chair, usually a long standing board member and often the past President. Most by-laws (Code of Regulations in Ohio) have some version of this committee so it is unlikely you will have to revise yours to get this done. That committee may also be called nominating or governance.

If your CEO does not already have one, create a spreadsheet that lists each board member’s individual on-boarding date and prospective renewal date. Ditto for each Officer.

The Board Development Committee follows that schedule: they say “thank you for your service” at the end of the term when a member is not meeting the board’s expectations or asks for another term of service if they are. They honor the term limits for officers and, if you have term limits for board members, they uphold those as well.

Their committee members are always on the lookout for new Board prospects that meet the board’s needs. They know their needs because they have completed a board matrix that mapped the current board and showed opportunities and gaps by which to seek new board members. Board Source has a free matrix which you can download here.

The Board Development committee has a very specific chart of work. Please click here to see that work in detail.

Step 2 – Board Process and the Work of Committees

Good board process is critical for board member engagement. Good board process includes have an agenda for every meeting, and a strong Chair that follows that agenda. It also requires discussing and voting on the right things, which may require a training to ensure people are clear what the right things are. (Spoiler alert: it’s not day to day operations. Each Board member should be trained as to the role of the board.) It also includes votes being taken appropriately and captured in writing.

To see the details of several committees you are likely to have or need and their general charts of work in detail please click here. Your Board should decide the committee’s actual chart of work based on the needs of your organization and its aspirations. Of course that means you have to have discussed and decided upon your aspirations.

Once you do, it may be that you need to plan out the tasks individual board members will do to move the work forward. Each chart of work should be broken down by the assigned committee into assignments, metrics and due dates. Once it is, you can identify the steps to move the work forward. There are great project management tools out there to outline the steps and track the work. I encourage you to find or design one that works for you.

For example, if the Resource Development Committee aspires to increase contributed income, it may not be enough to bring a list of community philanthropists to a meeting and ask people to write their names next to the folks they know. You and your chair may have to lead a discussion as to how and why that is the plan, engage people around the plan, train people to execute the plan and – then and only then- go through the names one by one and set goals, make assignments and set completion dates.

Board meetings are held to accomplish the business of the board and to report out on the work of committees. That’s the price of admission. Yet to build engagement they should also include mission moments and strategic and generative discussions.

Step 3 Strategic and Generative Governance

“It is not enough to have a strategic plan that made your Board members crazy and now sits on a shelf. Strategy is not a one day thing. Strategy requires direction setting, questioning and the committing of resources to ensure the destination is reached. It also requires the rejection of things that are outside the scope of our plan, or the revision of our plan. It necessitates having a culture that allows for and encourages questioning, and sometimes dissent. Board meetings should include robust discussions.”

I want each and every board member to feel privileged to be in the room. I often do an exercise with Board members and ask them to write down on a piece of paper their opinion of board meetings on a scale from 1-4: 1 is I can’t believe I left my office for this. 4 is I feel privileged to be in the room. How would your Board members vote?

“We engage 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. Again.

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.” Not Fund Raising? Not Engaged.

Board members join our boards to help us move forward our missions. We need to spend far more time at board meetings talking about the community issue that created the need for our agency, our values, how those values play out, how we are impacting our clients and what is happening in the world that is challenging our ability to meet our mission. We need to be diving deeper on the issues we care about and looking differently at how we are moving the needle for change.

I’ve said it before “if Boards are just going to approve the things put in front of them, anyone can do that. We don’t need our community’s best and brightest to serve on our Boards for that. We do need our community’s best and brightest to lead, to govern and to be strategic about the needs of our communities and generative about the issues we face.”

Boards that are developed, trained, focused on the right things and governing strategically and generatively are engaged, and engaged boards coupled with amazing leadership move mountains!

What’s been your experience in engaging a board? 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.

Is This Your Board, Too?

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on September 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm

I talk all the time about the need for a strategic plan. How strategic plans align the work of an organization. How without one, people are working on a variety of things that may or may not be aligned, or worse are at cross purposes. How executives get evaluated based on the plan’s execution. Finally, one of my girlfriends said: “I wish I could get them to plan! What am I supposed to do if my Board Chair hates strategic planning?”

There it is! I have long known, and not liked, that there are some Chairs who hate planning, and worse – some (entire) boards who just want to be told what to do. Despite the executive’s best efforts to the contrary, it’s where they are. The exec may have tried (in vain) to introduce improved board process, to guide and support a committee to develop the board, to train up, to motivate and to encourage a planning process. Yet, the Chair and possibly the full board are having none of it.

A strategic planning process is when “the board, staff, and select constituents decide the future direction of an organization and allocate resources, including people, to ensure that target goals are reached. Having a board-approved, staff-involved strategic plan that includes effective measurements and the allocation of resources aligns the organization, provides direction to all levels of staff and board, and defines the path for the future of the organization. It also allows leadership, both board and staff, to reject divergent paths that will not lead to the organization’s intended destination.” (Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives)

In the absence of a plan, execs spend their days putting out fires, but not necessarily moving their organization forward. Forward towards what you – and they – maybe thinking? What would forward even look like to a group of people who haven’t set a direction?

One of the roles of a board is to Set the Mission, Vision and Strategic Direction of an agency. To the boards out there that hate planning -and I’ve served on, worked for and with several of you – if you decline to fulfill your strategy setting responsibilities, your exec will only be able to maintain the status quo. There will be no growth. There will be no more impact than there is today. Your agency will be stagnant. It may even go backwards since many funders consider the strategic plan as part of their grant allocation decisions.

Leadership abhors a vacuum, and stagnant is not stimulating so it is likely at some point that your exec will tire of maintaining the status quo and will elect, instead, the not ideal option of setting the strategy of the organization herself. For the execs: If you have a Chair who hates planning, please remember the Chair is just one (powerful) person. The Board is a group of people that moves with one voice. I’m not suggesting you flat out defy your Chair, but I am suggesting you lobby other board members to build consensus that a strategic plan is needed. I also encourage you to remember that Officers generally only serve for a set period of time. While “waiting it out” is not an ideal strategy, it is a strategy and all things – good and bad – come to an end eventually. If you get the opportunity while you are waiting, I encourage you to begin to work with the nominating committee to seek a new chair that has an affinity for strategy.

If you have to set strategy on your own, do it in the most transparent manner you possibly can. Ask for permission, feedback, and in-put. Ask for a vote. Include the plan in every report you write and take every opportunity you have to continue to create buy in. Feed your plan into the work the committees are doing. If you have no committees, ask that a committee be set up to work on the Board portions of the plan and then recommend a Committee Chair who understands planning or at least can be coached toward understanding. Remind, remind, remind. We all know that execs that get too far in front of their boards tend to get fired; bring your Board along with you, even if they don’t want to be on that particular journey.

There also is the option of looking for a new leadership position. Any day really could be the day you quit or get fired. You may outgrow your board. You may outgrow your position. It may be time for bigger and better. If it is, leave well. Document everything you can, plan out as much as possible, make sure your agency can thrive in your absence or at least continue on that path it’s on.

The measure of a good leader is what happens once that leader is gone.

What have you done with Boards that won’t plan? What do you suggest? 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.

Wise Words from Influential Donors

In Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on August 14, 2015 at 12:51 pm

I had the opportunity to moderate the Working with Influential Volunteers forum for the Central Ohio Association of Fundraising Professionals this week. Three prominent Columbus philanthropists- Roger Sugarman, Cindy Hilsheimer and Mary Lazarus – agreed to share their experience. They were incredibly grateful and gracious to and about fund raisers and executive directors. In fact, each credited our field with helping them to contribute.

Their experience and advice was so powerful; I wanted to share what I perceived as the big take aways. I welcome your feedback and reaction to any and all:

“Be sensitive to the idea that yours is not the only organization that donor supports.”

The volunteer told a story about being solicited for a large gift and asking where the agency came up with that number. The asker responded by saying it was based on their home value. My take away (after I winced) was that a gift assessment is just one piece of information about a donor’s capacity. It still matters how engaged they are in your organization, who is asking and what else that donor supports.

“Have a plan.”

Donors like to see that a formal cultivation and stewardship process, a fund raising goal and a database management system is in place. They can tell when one (or more) is missing.

“There is a gentle balance between their relationship with the organization and their relationship with you.”

This was in reference to the 24 month tenure of development directors. If development staff are not going to stick around, it is imperative that a relationship is built with other leaders and with the organization. I also got the impression this was a gentle reminder that donors buy into missions not development directors.

“Ask what the donor is interested in.”

Development is about relationships; a good fund raiser starts with the donor, what they care about and want to impact. Once you learn each, you can offer suggestions as to what might be a match between their goals and your organization’s mission.

“Provide structured mentoring between new board members and tenured members specifically to teach fund raising.”

Brilliant! Asking others for money is an art more than a science and the art is best learned by watching others, being personally solicited, making your own gift and then doing it yourself. How do you train new board members to become fund raisers?

“People like being asked. They can always say no.” “It is empowering to be asked and to give.”

No one has to be afraid of fund raising. Inviting someone to invest in moving forward a mission and improving a community is empowering – for people on both sides of the table.

“Don’t just talk to donors when you want something.”

Relationships have to be built. Relationships with donors are just like other relationships, they require an investment of time and some version of reciprocity. In this case, the reciprocity is in information. The take away was share to the gift’s impact, the agency or program’s successes and, as necessary, your struggles. Relationships of all kinds require honesty, communication and cultivation. When was the last time you reached out to your donors?

“If you can’t write a check, you shouldn’t take up a seat at the (board) table.”

Yup, this was my favorite. I cheered when it was said. If you do not care enough about the mission of an organization to financially support it, giving of your time in not enough; you should not be at the table. The goal for any board is not usually huge gifts from every board member, though that would be lovely. The goal is a gift – of any amount- from every board member.

100% board giving is critical to any agency that is asking the community to invest in its mission.

“The CEO needs to be partners with the development director.”

Development directors cannot raise money alone. The CEO needs to be a partner with the development director. When they are not, not only does fund raising suffer, but your donors can tell.

What have you learned from influential donors? If you are an influential donors, what do you wish we knew? 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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