Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘evaluate nonprofit CEO’

The Thing About Nonprofit Leadership

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, 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.

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.

Are your Actions Conflicting with your Goals?

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on January 10, 2014 at 9:07 am

I’m always fascinated by the number of things people do that are in direct conflict with their goals. My dog does a perfect illustration of this: He gets so excited when we have visitors that he acts inappropriately and gets put outside or crated, which prevents him from meeting his goal of being loved by our visitors. He is not alone. Leaders and organizations do the same thing!

This week, since it’s a new year and many people in my personal and professional lives have begun working on new goals, I’ve been thinking about the intent of those goals.  I love goals that are intended to get everyone on the same page and align the work of an organization.

I do not love goals that are intended to motivate people, and I’m not even clear why we would need to do that. Employee goals intended to motivate don’t make any sense to me and, honestly, I don’t find them motivating. In fact, I find them de-motivating, and also slightly insulting.

High performers – a group I like to count myself among – will do their very best every day, aligned with the work they’ve been assigned and the expectations of their position, and not in any way because of the goals they’ve been assigned. They will do their best because it’s who they are and the work ethic they possess. It is our job as leaders to demonstrate our vision and hire, support, groom and develop high performers who can help us reach that vision.

Let me be very clear, I absolutely and unequivocally believe that leaders must set expectations for staff and also evaluate those staff based on the expectations set. I also believe that the job of the executive is to implement the strategic plan which doubles as their goals. In the absence of a plan, it is the board’s job to work with the exec to set the expectations by which they will evaluate that exec’s performance at the year’s end. Those expectations (call them goals if you must) should not be set to motivate your exec. They should be set to align the work of the organization, ensure everyone is on the same page and provide a process for evaluation. If you have to set goals to motivate your exec, you have the wrong exec.

We, as leaders, should all strive to have as many high performers as we can possibly attract and afford.  It begs the question: are the goals we are setting for high performers alienating those performers? I think they might be. I’m beginning to believe that employee goals that are intended to motivate people are lowering our standards, teaching to the middle, and working in direct conflict of our actual goals of meeting our missions and achieving our organizations’ visions.  You know, I believe that any action, process, policy or procedure that is in conflict with our goal is a bad action, process, policy or procedure. I am starting to believe that goals that are intended to motivate are just that.

Once, many years ago and before I really understood resource development and major donor cultivation, I was running an agency that attracted about $50,000 of contributions from individuals each year. My Board Chair wanted to set a goal for me of $1,000,000. One million dollars! Yes, your math is right and that would have been 20 times the annual giving received by that agency. He called it a stretch goal. Rather than inspire me to reach that goal, it created enormous anxiety for me. How in the world – with no change in staffing, no change in process or a new program or project to announce – was I going to raise 20 times our current contributed income?  I wasn’t. Thankfully, I was able to explain my position and get him to revise my goals. To his credit- and this may have been his intent all along – I ramped up my own knowledge and capacity for raising money and cultivating and retaining major donors giving major gifts.

I did raise that amount and more a few years later, but not because of a goal and not, by any stretch of the imagination, alone. I did it with a change in staffing, a more developed board, several changes in process and a huge project that addressed a significant gap in service that I was committed to rectify.

Wanting something doesn’t make it a good goal. If you set goals, set them to recognize, hire and retain high performers.  Set them to align the work of your agency. Set them to have some way to evaluate your executive. Make your goals doable, with systems to support them and a path to achieve them.

Don’t set goals to motivate people! We should not be using goals to motivate. We shouldn’t have to. The work we do and the communities we serve should motivate our team toward greatness.  If they don’t, we have built the wrong team and no amount of goal setting is going to rectify that.

What do you think about goals being used to motivate staff?  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.

Governance: The Work of the Board, part 1 Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive

In Non Profit Boards on July 10, 2013 at 3:48 pm

As mentioned in Board Basics and reposted in Erik Anderson’s Donor Dreams blog “Boards are made up of appointed community leaders who are collectively responsible for governing an organization. That includes:

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

As you know, one of my goals for this blog is to rectify the common practice in the field of people telling nonprofit executives and boards how things should be done without any instruction as to what that actually means or how to accomplish it.

Since I wrote a recent post on Strategic Planning, I’m going to circle back to that one and start with Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director.

What that means is:

It is the Board’s role to hire the Executive Director, also called CEO. Prior to hiring, interviewing or even posting the job, it is imperative the Board discus what they want and need in an Executive Director. This conversation cannot be farmed out to a committee primarily consisting of non board members, or to a consultant or hiring firm. That will only get you what they want and think you need – not what you want and actually need.

What skill sets and experience do you need in a leader?

Growing, turning around or maintaining an organization require very different skill sets. Which trait do you want your new leader to have? Does your leader need to be a subject matter expert? Does she need to be local? Does he need to be a fund raiser, an operations person or both? I recommend a search, regardless of if there is a good internal person, if someone on the board wants the job or if there is an obvious heir apparent. Do a search, let everyone apply and see who best matches your needs. For more information on conducting a search, please click here.

Once your hire an Executive Director, he needs to be supported. Supporting an Executive Director is where the rubber meets the road. I once had a colleague tell her board to “Support her or fire her, but to choose.” and while I was shocked, I was also in agreement. The job of the Executive Director is very difficult and energy spent on worrying is not spent on moving the organization forward. (To the Executive Director’s out there: Worrying about keeping your job precludes you from doing your job. You have to do what you believe is best, based on your experience, information and training, within the boundaries of your role and the law. We all know that any day could be the day you quit or get fired. That can’t stop you from leading.) Communication is key: the Board needs to know (and approve of) what the Executive Director is doing and the Executive Director needs to know (and be willing to do) what the Board wants.

It is the Board Chair’s job to be the direct supervisor of the Executive Director and the entire Board’s job to support her, set goals and hold her accountable to those goals. That means the Board has to let the Executive Director fulfill the bounds of her role. There should also be a strategic plan that is being implemented, board approved policies that are being followed and an annual evaluation process for the Executive Director (and the rest of the staff).

The vast majority of Executive Directors rarely get evaluated, and when they do it’s often because they asked for an evaluation. (To the Board Presidents out there: Executive Directors, just like Board members and most other people, when left to their own devices will do what they think is right. What they think is right will not necessarily be aligned with what the Board wants, especially if what the Board wants has not been discussed or communicated. It also may not be aligned with anything anyone else is doing. See the Strategic Plan link above to create alignment.) Executive Directors should be given expectations and goals (just like all other staff) and should be evaluated against those expectations and goals every year. There should be a staff (including executive) compensation plan that has a range for salaries for each position and reflect comparable positions in your community; raises should be given within the confines of that plan, or the plan should be revised. (More on that in the Setting Policies blog to come.)

Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director has to happen – in full- for your executive to be an effective leader, for your board to fulfill its responsibilities and for your organization to fulfill its mission. When an Executive Director is hired right, supported appropriately and evaluated effectively there’s no end to the impact it can make on an organization and a community.

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

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