Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘board development’

The Thing About Nonprofit Leadership

In Non Profit Boards, Leadership, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on April 13, 2017 at 9:49 am

One of the honors of my professional life, in addition to leading nonprofits and working toward social justice, is teaching at the Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. The students are so earnest and bright! Every semester, and sometimes every week, a student tells a story and I answer, “that was a leadership decision.”

  • A donor wants to control the programming; that’s a leadership decision.
  • A Board member wants you to co-mingle grant money; that’s a leadership decision- and a teachable moment.
  • A parent challenges a procedure; that’s a leadership decision.

How you react is the difference between an agency that flourishes and one that struggles.

Donors, community leaders and others may want your agency to go in a way that is contrary to your agency’s agreed upon strategic direction. (Saying no to those requests, alone, is worth the investment in a strategic plan.) They may want you to do something with their gift that is against your values. Their values may be contrary to your organizational values. They may not want you to go in the direction that the Board has set.

That is the beauty of a strategic plan. In addition to aligning the work of an agency and getting everyone on the same page working toward the same goals, it allows the CEO to say no. Or, if the opportunity is so fabulous that no is not the right answer, to bring the idea to the Board for their consideration. That, too, is a leadership decision.

It’s easy to say yes. Someone brings you something, you say yes. They go away happy. No, on the other hand, engenders the completely opposite reaction. It’s hard to say no. It’s also critical to your and your agency’s success.

Those are not even, or by a long shot, the only decisions you will make or the only people to whom you will say no. Here’s some more:

  • A funder wants you to apply for a new grant. It’s a lot of money but it’s not exactly what your agency does. Do you say no? (Yes, you do.) Can you? (You can.) Do you follow the money? (No.)
  • A staff member does something that is against the spirit of a policy (or the law) but not technically the letter of that policy (or the law).
  • The Executive Board regularly makes decisions in lieu of the full Board, which very well may be codified in your by-laws. (I recommend that clause is only used in the case of emergency.) That, too, is a leadership decision and while it’s not your decision as the CEO, it’s totally your problem. Fix it.

Your Board members will be as aware of their role as the person who trained them, which may have been 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.

You will get the Board you build; some might say (have said) you will get the Board you deserve. The nonprofit Board structure is an illustration in opposites. CEOs serve at the pleasure of their Board. Our Boards are intended to be representative of the community we serve. We want and need a diverse mix of Board members, with a diverse set of experiences, and a diverse set of skills, who have the time, talent and treasure to help us move our missions forward. It is also true that nonprofit CEOs – many of whom have spent our lives in this field and have advanced degrees, decades of experience working on the issues our agency exits to address, and significant knowledge of board process, nonprofit governance and the law – may be reporting to a group of people who have none of the above.

It’s why building your Board is so critical. You can get a lot done on sheer willpower and many nonprofit CEOs have, but your agency will be unstoppable when your Board is trained to their role and fulfilling that role.

Everyone has different goals and often different priorities. It’s why it’s so important to define both for an agency.

That’s the thing about leadership, whatever you allow, whatever you promote, whatever you support, overtly or implicitly, intentionally or accidentally, you own.

The other thing is this: you also own the decisions the people who report to you make. How you react afterward? That’s all you!

We all know that any day could be the day we quit or get fired. There’s still a job to do – and you’re in the chair. Decide wisely.

What’s your experience with leadership decisions? Do you have a story you 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.

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.

 

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.

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.

For My Executive Director Friends: Five Things to Stop Doing, Right Now

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Resource Development on March 19, 2015 at 5:14 pm

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 leadership roles in nonprofits, please consider the price of:

  1. Not Building the Board

I know you like it when your board members do what you suggest. I always liked it too. I also liked it when they challenged me. It wasn’t always comfortable. It wasn’t always pleasant. It was (almost) always helpful.

You cannot do the work of the board. Actually, you can, but it’s not the most effective way to go. Boards need to be trained on their role and then allowed to fulfill that role. When they are not, their liability is greater and the potential success of your organization is limited.

Building a yes board will get you to yes, but it won’t get you to great. You can do a lot by sheer willpower, and you have. Build your board, let them fulfill their roles, and your organization will flourish!

I encourage you to also consider adding strategic and generative conversations to board meetings. It will engage board members in a new way and remind everyone why we do this work.

  1. Setting the Organization’s Strategic Direction

What I really mean is: Stop writing that strategic plan. Yes, you. Right now.

That is the board’s job. They are less likely to buy into a plan that you wrote anyway and you are more likely to be frustrated that they don’t want to participate in implementing a plan that they didn’t create.

Your job is to encourage the process, help to find a facilitator, be in the room, participate in (but don’t dominate) the discussion, and answer questions. Once the plan is approved, your job is to operationalize it.

Try to not be upset if the facilitator asks you to limit your participation in the process. When I was running the Akron Club, we brought in Ken Rubin, our Regional Service Director from BGCA, to facilitate. He (very nicely) told me to be quiet during the strategic planning session. I was incensed! I was also wrong. Setting the organization’s strategic direction is a board role.

  1. Telling your Team to “Just Do it!”

It takes a lot of time to make sure staff understand what you are trying to do and where you are trying to go. Sometimes, they will get it intuitively but more often they won’t and you’ll have to explain it. To develop them as future leaders, rather than tell them to “just do it” – especially if you’re going challenge what they did do once it’s done– take the time on the front end to help them think through the process, the goals and the outcome.

Many of us were trained under the baptism by fire model and we learned. We did, in fact, often figure it out and get the job done. Still, it could have been much less harrowing, safer and more effective to have been trained and developed appropriately.

One other point: “Think for yourself” and “do what I say” are mutually exclusive instructions. Decide which one your want and train you team accordingly. Fair warning: should you pick the latter, your team may not have much opportunity for growth and might not stick around very long.

  1. Like it or Not: You are the Chief Development Officer

Even when you have a development director or a team of development directors, the CEO is ALWAYS the chief development officer. You cannot abdicate that role. You can decide at what level you want to play and how much latitude you will give your team. Your largest donor will always expect you to know their names, be the one to sign their notes, update them on activities and be in the room when they are solicited.

Your board will look to you for leadership and for direction as to what role they should play. You cannot delegate that to your development director. That’s all you.

That said, you should take direction from your development director who should be regularly giving you a list of people to call and notes on what to say. He or his team should also be training your board (and you, if necessary) on how to solicit a gift, preparing the solicitor and the materials for that meetings and then documenting the results of the meeting. He should be working with the board committee (while keeping you updated) to create and implement a plan to raise a variety of contributed income. The Chair of that committee should be reporting on its work to the board, not staff.

  1. Not Considering New Ideas

I know people bring you ideas all the time and sometimes, especially when you’re distracted, the answer is often no. I’m confident that you think about the idea afterwards and sometimes go back and say yes. I know I did. I also know that people found it confusing.

Nonprofit execs are always thinking on a variety of levels and war gaming multiple things simultaneously. It is very hard to turn that off and switch to considering something new. Stopping that practice is hard, really hard.

I think most of us need an improvisation course to teach us to say “yes and” instead of no. Or at least a training to learn how to say: “Tell me more.” “How would that work?” “Can I have some time to consider it?” You may still say no, but at least you will demonstrate that you are considering the idea.

Leadership is hard enough. Even when you’re trained and you know the rules, your agency’s policies and the law, it’s still hard to decide where the lines go and which rules apply to which situations. Still, 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.

Serving at the Pleasure of the Board

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Strategic Plans on July 3, 2014 at 9:21 am

Nonprofit executive leaders (called executive directors, president and/or CEOs) serve at the pleasure of their board. Boards are made up of community leaders that, collectively, serve as the “owners” of an organization. They are responsible for fulfilling The Role of the Board including hiring, evaluating and supporting their executive. That executive is responsible to support the organization’s mission and goals; guide, support, and serve the board in establishing goals, developing policies, securing and stewarding resources, and implementing a strategic plan; and to provide leadership and direction to staff.

The individual members of your board may or may not know any of that. They may or may not have served on other boards or understand their job, your job, the mission of your organization or how that mission gets implemented. They may or may not understand the program and services of your organization or the role it plays in the community.

Boards that don’t understand their role can’t perform their role.

One of the things that new executive directors are often shocked by is the amount of time they need to spend developing their board. It is an enormous commitment to develop a board of directors and one that is critical to the success of your organization. As mentioned in The Role of the Nonprofit CEO “The CEO assists in building the board, both initially through encouraging an appropriate prospecting, vetting, and orientation process and on-going though Board education and evaluation. It is the CEO’s role to support good board process, and the board development committee’s role to lead the process.”

Board development is a role of the executive leader and because you serve at the pleasure of the board, the safest thing you can do is train your board as to their role, your role, the need for your agency and the impact it makes.

I have seen boards hire a new executive director to implement a change the board wanted and then fire that leader when the change that they asked for felt too difficult. I’ve seen boards hire the wrong executive and then let that executive stay because they didn’t have a plan to replace them. I’ve seen boards (and you have too) promote staff that were in no way ready for a leadership role, because they didn’t have the time or the inclination to do a search. I’ve seen boards agree to a change management plan to change the culture of the organization and then get nervous when it felt too uncomfortable and consider firing their executive, who instead resigned in disgust. Discomfort and sometimes fear is an inherent part of change and it’s a part that we have to expect, and then manage.

It should go without saying (but, of course, it never does) that people are more likely to be happy with what you’re doing, when they know what you’re doing.

Serving at the pleasure of 18 or 20 or 24 people – even 12 – is a pretty high bar. I always joke that it’s hard to get 20 people to agree upon what they want for lunch, let alone what the annual goals are for an organization, but we must. The board sets the strategic direction to guide the work of an organization and before you can plan, you have to build.

Boards have to be intentionally built, properly educated and evaluated. As included in The Best Advice you will get the board you build. “Board development is an intentional process that includes strategic prospecting, recruiting, and orienting for new board members and educating, evaluating and recognizing current board members, coupled with a strategic plan (that is being followed) and the introduction of generative discussions.

Strong CEOs build strong boards. As discussed in greater detail in the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives “the CEO’s role in board development is to understand the work of the board and its processes, and support the implementation of each. CEOs play a primary role in building the board. As such, they have the opportunity to assemble a board that can take the organization to new heights.’  ‘The CEO assists in building the board to which she will ultimately report and also makes recommendations, staffs board committees, and supports the board’s success.  CEOs do not have the authority to add board members.

In the case of board development, CEO’s should also:

  • Support the recruitment of potential board members; arrange and attend meetings with prospective board members and the board or committee chair, share the agency’s vision, mission, and board processes, including time, giving and getting expectations, and assess the capacity of the prospective member to fit on the team;
  • Manage the board development process, including the spreadsheet of terms of office;
  • Ensure board training and evaluation.”

Having an intentionally built board is not enough, you also have to encourage that board to go through a strategic planning process and you, as the exec, have to be able to operationalize that plan to align the work of the organization.

In the absence of agreed upon goals, there is no objective way to for you to be evaluated. In those cases, you as the exec will either receive no evaluation or worse, your board will rely on how they “feel” about things. Feel is not objective and feel is not safe for leaders.

Any day can be the day you quit or get fired. Over the years, I have had to explain to a board chair why co-mingling is unethical, to a different chair why yelling at another board member to get a donation is not effective, and to yet another chair that if he want to fire a member of my team, he would have to fire me first.

What if I didn’t have goals that I was expected to implement? What if there were no metrics to gauge my leadership? What if the day after I had one of those conversations was the day the committee was meeting to do my evaluation?

These jobs we hold are not for the faint of heart. They’re tough and they’re lonely. They are also incredibly fulfilling, an honor and a privilege.

What’s been your experience in serving at the pleasure of a board? Do you have any amusing, scary or appalling stories 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.

Board Leadership: The Time it Really Takes

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on May 14, 2014 at 9:52 am

I have just finished playing only the most recent version of the game “Dani, I don’t have time for this.” For those of you to whom this game may be new, please read the post I’m a Volunteer.

Over my career, I have played this game with a never ending cast of characters, some of them my own board members, some my clients, some my friends, some my fellow board members. Serving on a board takes time, possibly more time than you may have to give. That’s the job.

The job of a board member is a serious job. It may have the added benefit of looking cool on your resume and impressing your colleagues or your boss. It may feel good to be in a leadership position in an organization that is moving forward an issue about which you’re passionate. Still, and please make no mistake about this: it’s a job. Like all jobs, especially ones that are important, it takes time; sometimes significant time.

Board members are collectively responsible for governing an organization.

That includes hiring, supporting and evaluating an executive director who has probably (hopefully) spent years preparing for the position. That means that you – whatever your background – is a part of the group that is collectively managing a position you’ve likely never held, or even seen up close. She will need help and if you are on the board, that means you will need to figure out her job, your job and where the lines go between the two. Hopefully, you will be oriented and annually trained in your role, but it’s possible you won’t. You will need to meet with her periodically, help her grow professionally, introduce her into your circle of influence and work with whatever group that will be leading her evaluation and setting her goals. It takes time to support and evaluate sometime and once you add in hiring, especially if you hire right – it’s time. Lots of time.

Governance also includes setting the strategic vision for your organization. That means you, as a member of the board, are sitting in a room somewhere thinking about the values of your organization and how those values will be infused throughout your policies, systems and programs. It means you are reviewing/revising your mission statement and setting a vision for the future. Once you have set the vision, you will then need to set goals and strategies to meet that vision. Please include measurements, timelines and assignments. Otherwise, you’ve just spent a lot of time creating a wish list.

Strategic planning should happen again whenever you meet the goals you set the last time, usually every three to five years. If your board has three years terms renewable once, you will probably participate in at least one strategic planning session, which will take…..yup, you guessed it ….time.

Boards are also responsible for acting as the fiduciary responsible agent, which includes being good stewards of the community’s resources as well as insuring programs align with the mission and are impactful. That means you have understand the financials and the budget as well as the programs, the number of people served within those programs and how your programs make their lives better.

In addition, boards are responsible for setting policy, including those that govern the finances, staff, and board.  Finally, they are responsible for securing the agency’s resources, which often includes personally giving a financial gift as well as occasionally setting up and attending friend and fund raising meetings with individuals, corporations or foundations.

The time commitment doesn’t end with governance, there should also be expectations for board members of the agency you serve. I recommend agencies expect board members to attend 75% of board meetings, serve on at least one committee, attend agency events, especially special events, represent the agency in the community, uphold its policies, give a gift and solicit others for gifts.

When you recruit new board members, or others recruit you to serve on a board, it is important to discuss the time commitment. I implore you to not present it as an hour a month. It is never an hour a month. It doesn’t even average to an hour a month. It is three to five hours a month: 1.5 hours at the board meeting, 1.5 hours at a committee meeting, 2 hours working with the committee or the CEO to accomplish the work of the committee and that could go up significantly should there be something of consequence to discuss or address.

People will meet the expectation we set. If we set an expectation of an hour a month, we will be frustrated that our boards are ineffective and our board members will be frustrated that they cannot move our organizations forward. More importantly, we will fail.

Board leadership, as outlined in The Role of the Board, is governance. And as we all know from my favorite board book, Governance as Leadership, governance necessitates leadership.

Changing the world takes time, emotional fortitude and a commitment to be better than we are. Strong boards beget strong organizations. Because of that, and because of the enormous needs in our communities, I want boards to be better. I want the agencies they govern to be stronger and the execs they hire to be qualified to lead the staff and the community to implement the change we need.

If you don’t have the time to do the job right, I implore you to find another way to serve the mission of your organization. We have a world to change and our work is too important.

What’s been your experience with the time it takes to serve on a board? Were you told an hour a month when you were invited to serve? Are you playing the “I don’t have time” game? 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 a New Nonprofit

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on April 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

I have two clients right now who are looking to create a new nonprofit, and you know two is my magic number for questions and ideas that generate a blog post. As such, let’s talk about creating a nonprofit, which for our purposes today will mean a 501 (c) 3, as opposed to other nonprofits that are not charitable institutions. For more information on that, please see All Nonprofits Are Not Charities.

Before we get in too deep, and on behalf of the people I can hear out there yelling at their computer that the world does not need any more nonprofits, if you haven’t already committed to this path, please click over to read Before You Start A New Nonprofit. There may be options that you have not considered.

If you’re still reading, I will assume that you have done your homework and have concluded that creating a new agency is the way to go. Thank you for wanting to impact your corner of the world and the issues about which you are passionate.

The vast majority of time you will spend at the beginning of the launch is on board development.

Strong boards beget strong agencies. You (and your board once it’s built) will have to set the mission and vision for the organization, create a plan, build the profile, the program and lots of other things to introduce your new agency to your community.

The first official step to create a nonprofit is to hire a lawyer and have the proper paperwork filed. You can file it yourself but I wouldn’t. There are lots of things that I’m willing to figure out (and sometimes learn the hard way), but legal and accounting issues are not usually among them. Once you have filed, usually with both your state and the IRS, you may also need to register as a charity, depending on the state and city in which you will operate.

Make sure that your lawyer has expertise in nonprofit law. If they don’t and you still want to use them, find someone who has that expertise. It can be a consultant, an executive director, or someone who has previously started an agency. Sometimes, lawyers, especially those who are not experts in the nonprofit field, create very basic by-laws, and that won’t be enough. I recommend you start with 12-18 members, not the three that usually get listed on initial by-laws. Three people aren’t enough to get where you want to go. If 12 seems daunting, and you really truly only have 3 people initially, write it as 3-18.

I recommend three-year terms for board members. Try to stagger the terms so that everyone doesn’t roll off at once. It is considered a best practice, by many, to have term limits, usually two or three terms for a total of six to nine years. At that point, really dedicated board members may roll off for a year and then be reappointed.  This is not a best practice I usually advocate.  It’s necessary if you have a board that is conflict adverse. If you have a board that’s willing to address issues and thank people when they’re no longer effective or engaged, you won’t need to say goodbye, even for a year, to effective board members.

I recommend one year terms for officers, renewable once. That may not feel like long enough for the founder and if that’s the case, write the by-laws for longer terms with the understanding that in the future you will revise the by-laws and back down the officer terms. It is not good for an agency to have long term officers. New blood and new ideas are needed on the board to continue to move the organization forward.

Finally, I recommend you create at least three committees: a board development committee to create, perpetuate and educate the board; a finance committee to make sure that the organization is spending its resources in accordance with GAAP standards and appropriately protecting the community’s investment; and a resource development committee to encourage the board and the community to invest in your agency’s mission. For more information on committees, please click here. The committees, once appointed, need to set and meet goals including building, training and annually evaluating the board (and the executive if you have one), personally giving, raising money from others and stewarding the money that is raised.

Once the board is built – at least the first time around – you can move on to other things. As you will find out if you haven’t already learned, board development is an on-going process in any nonprofit agency that never quite ends, but for our purposes, let’s say we’re happy with our initial board.

The next step is mission, vision and strategic (then tactical) planning. I can hear some of you thinking that we should have planned first, but planning requires the right people at the table so while it may look like a chicken and egg scenario, it’s not. You need the right board to create the right plan.

One of the keys responsibilities of a board is to set the mission, vision and strategic direction. The mission answers why the agency exists. The vision answers where the agency aspires to be at a future point in time. The plan lays out the path to get there. Once you have the strategic plan, you will also need a tactical plan to operationalize the work.

Part of the plan, especially at the beginning, will be the program and its potential to impact the community you aspire to serve. Please include that community in your planning efforts.  Also consider the staffing needed to create, introduce, offer and evaluate whatever services you plan to provide.

Finally, create a plan to introduce your agency and its program to the community, including partner agencies, potential funders and donors. This again may seem like a chicken and egg scenario but you will need to have a program plan before you can talk to people about your aspirations. They can’t buy in, if you can’t paint the picture.

Starting a new nonprofit is exciting, and daunting. Like anything else in the nonprofit world, a good board and a well thought-out plan can get you pretty far.

Have you started a new nonprofit? Can you share your experiences? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

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