Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘generative governance’

Does Your Agency Aspire to Social Justice or Charity?

In Advocacy, Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on May 23, 2017 at 11:40 am

The two questions I repeat the most, in both my classes and in my practice, are these: What’s the goal?  Who decides?

What’s the goal?

Is your agency’s goal to be the best food pantry (or any other service providing/safety net charity)? Or is it to address the underlying issues related to food scarcity (or any other complicated, multi-layered critical issue)?  If it’s the former, that’s charity.  If it’s the latter, that’s social justice.

Social Justice is working to change systemic issues. Charity is responding to immediate needs.  As anyone who has ever taken my class or worked in our field will tell you, we need both.  We’re not going to ignore the hungry child in front of us to work for social justice. Yet, we can’t only get food for those who are hungry, because the root causes are what’s causing food scarcity.

Every person who serves a nonprofit has to decide where to plug in. Every staff member. Every researcher. Every leader. Every volunteer. Every donor.

What’s the goal?

Do we keep fishing cats out of the river, or look upstream and deal with whatever or whoever is causing the cats to be in the river? What’s the goal? (It’s a handy question.)

Nonprofit Boards, in concert with their CEO, set the goal. The goal sets the path. (This could be a great generative conversation for a future Board meeting.)

If the goal is to be the best food pantry, and there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best food pantry –  unless your goal is social justice, and then you’re on the wrong path. The path supports the work toward the goal.

Maybe you want both?  I always did. I wanted to run the best agency I could, doing good work, meeting our mission, with a well trained, dedicated and talented Board and staff, serving our clients with dignity AND I want to work with my community partners to eliminate the need for my agency.

That means dual goals with dual paths. You can be the best food pantry and also work with community partners to eliminate food scarcity.  Food scarcity, and all systemic issues, is a big scary multi layered bucket of issues that include privilege, implicit bias, legal and policy challenges, poverty elimination, racism, sexism, classism, housing, school funding imbalances, and lots of other things that are hard to tease out and even harder to solve.

Being the best is a go it alone, we have the answers, and we’ll get it done model. It’s a bit more territorial and a lot less collaborative, but it’s not ineffective and sometimes the circumstances call for it.

Am I competing against my partner agencies for funding?  Sometimes I am. Does that mean I can’t also work with them to address the underlying issues in our community. Some will tell you it does.  I’m here to tell you it doesn’t.  Where you sit always determines where you stand.

It’s why your values have to match your agency’s policies and its aspirations?  As I mentioned in Reflecting on my Pursuit of Social Justice “saying you value one thing but actually doing another sends a very inconsistent and confusing message. If we want our teams to live our values, then we have to live them and our policies and systems have to reflect them.”

Who Decides?

You do, collectively and individually. You decide at the agency level.  You decide at the community level. You decide at your leadership level- on your team, in your neighborhood.  Every day.  With every decision. Every donation. Every allocation. Every choice.

There was a great piece on NPR this morning  In Some Rural Counties, Hunger Is Rising, But Food Donations Aren’t looking at just this issue. It’s not just SW Virginia.  There are communities across the country that are discussing systemic issues and setting goals for change in their community.  I’m proud to tell you that several of those cities are in Ohio; Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus have been and continue to have these conversations.

I’m hoping it’s a national trend. Even if it’s not yet a trend that has come to your community, you can still move toward social justice.

We each get to decide if we run our agencies to be the best organization alone or if we work together to eliminate the need for all of our agencies, because we addressed the systemic issue requiring our agencies.  How?

By deciding to be less territorial and more collaborative. Call your partners and other leaders in your community who work on like issues and invite them to discuss the options. Are you ready to set a Theory of Change for your community?  If so, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a great manual on how.

Before you do, you might have to stop being afraid of scarcity and start embracing abundance.  If you’re currently looking at the world and your ability to impact change as a zero sum game –  and it’s how many of us have been trained to think –  I invite you to read Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance.

We can change our corner of the world alone at our desks or we can do it together.  If our goal is social justice, together will get us farther, faster.

What’s your experience standing in the breech between social justice and charity.  Where did you elect to stand? 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.

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.

Board Meetings: Privileged to be in the Room

In Non Profit Boards on June 3, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), which if you are not familiar is generally included among the best publications in our field, recently invited me (and others) to the Better Board Governance webinar with the words: “Many—and some leaders believe most—nonprofit boards are ineffective.”

Many boards are ineffective! It’s true, and when SSIR says it, it gives each of us permission to say it, and hopefully to fix it. It’s one of my personal and professional goals to make this less of the case.

I work with a lot of boards and my goal is always that each and every board member feels privileged to be in the room. Now that’s a pretty high bar, but board members work hard, for several years, for free. It’s our job to make it worthwhile for them.

“We engaged board members initially by talking to them about our organization’s mission, the impact it makes in our communities and our vision for changing our corner of the world. They joined our boards in order to help us do those things – and then we never talked with them ever again about any of it. Ever. 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 our missions, our clients and how our programs are impacting their lives.

That, of course, means we have to spend less time talking about other things. Or we need to have longer meetings. I’m not opposed to longer meetings. I believe that we each need to put in the time it takes to get the job done. That said, there are a few ways to ways to make sure the things discussed at meetings should be discussed at meetings. Here’s a few ways to make that happen:

The first, easiest and most effective way to have shorter meetings is to have a robust committee structure. Most of the work of the board gets done in committee. Committees make recommendations to the full board, as necessary. Outside of such recommendations, which other than the finance committee should be periodic and not monthly, committees fulfill their chart of work, which is usually outlined in the by-laws and aligned with the appropriate goal in the strategic plan. For more information about committees, please see Board Work via Board Committees.

Board meetings cannot be allowed to become committee meetings. If they are tottering in that direction, the chair needs to send the issue back to committee and invite interested board members to attend the next committee meeting.

Consent agendas are another great way to reduce time spent on some things to allow time for other things, but ONLY – and I really mean only – if your board is reading the things they are voting upon. “When you consider if a consent agenda is right for your board, consider the board members who most often attend. Do they typically read materials in advance or in the room? If they read them in advance, consent agendas can allow more time for robust generative discussions. If they read them in the room, they may not have time to read all the materials and may be voting on things about which they are not entirely clear. If that is the case, consent agendas can create issues of liability for your agency.” Decision are Made by Those who Show Up

The idea is that a consent agenda includes items that the board should see but doesn’t need to discuss; it is expected to be approved in full, but it doesn’t have to be. Any board member can question any item included in the consent agenda, which will then open up the item for discussion. Consent agendas can include the minutes from the past meeting, any committee report that does not need a board vote, and any other materials. Financial reports should not be included in the consent agenda but instead should be presented and voted upon at each meeting.

Hopefully, we have redirected enough time, with one or both of the ideas mentioned, to allow you to introduce mission moments, information about things happening in the world that will impact the clients you serve or your organization and generative and strategic discussions. If not, please do consider making your meetings longer. I think your board members will agree that longer, more effective meetings are preferable to shorter, less effective meetings.

It would be great if you could start meetings by talking about the mission, introduce ideas about strategy in the middle and end with generative conversations. Remember, generative conversation don’t always have answers. “To be or not to be” was probably the first generative question to be posed. Just because there are no answers doesn’t mean it won’t be a fascinating discussion.

Here are some questions to get you started:

Is offering this program the best way to meet our mission?

Should philanthropists only give to the cause they believe in or should they address the largest needs in our community? What, if anything, is their obligation?

What is the government’s role in addressing poverty? What is the community’s role?

Since I started with SSIR, I’ll end with our other venerable institution, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which last week in their generative article “Foundations Must Rethink Their Ideas of Strategic Giving and Accountability” asked the questions:

“What are our responsibilities as institutions with a growing public role?

How can we add clarity and context to transparency?

What is our real responsibility for showing Impact? How much can or should we control?

How can we improve our working relationship with citizens and demonstrate respect?”

What are some generative conversations you’ve had? What’s been your experience in moving toward generative governance? 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.

Lens, Conclusions and Generative Governance

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on February 27, 2014 at 9:38 am

There was a piece on NPR just before the Olympics began about the economic benefits to cities hosting the Olympic Games. In case you missed the piece, it illustrated that it wasn’t a good investment for cities economically, and also that economics should not be our only lens.

Hosting wasn’t economically viable for reasons other than you might imagine. The reason it wasn’t viable is because to win the prize the cities had to keep out topping each other and what they had to promise was so expensive that they lost even when they won. It is a great illustration of lens and also of leadership choices.

The Olympics, in case you didn’t know, is a nonprofit organization, as is NPR. As such, that makes the story well within our bounds for blog posts, even one that looks at decision making through an economic development lens.

If your job is to lead your city, your organization, or your community than getting into a bidding war for the privilege of spending billions of dollars to host an event at some point becomes a zero-sum game.

It is a perfect opportunity to ask some strategic and generative questions:

  • Does hosting the Olympics have to be economically beneficial for it to be beneficial in other ways?
  • If it does, why would the community leaders follow that path?
  • Why is that our lens?
  • What do we gain and also lose?
  • ‘What produced this race to host?
  • Where does it stop?’
  • “Do we want to pass or play?
  • If we play, what are our principles?”Governance as Leadership: An Interview with Richard P. Chait

In case you’re wondering, the answer was no. Hosting the Olympics is not economically beneficial and cities shouldn’t present it as such; there are other benefits to be achieved and other goals that are met.

So what does all this have to do with nonprofits?

Nonprofits aren’t economically viable; that’s why they’re nonprofits. If they were for profits they’d fail, and that’s not our goal anyway. Our goal is to change the world.

That means that the boards of our agencies need to set metrics that are aligned with the goals of our agencies, and goals that are aligned with our vision. As you know, I am a huge proponent of strategic plans being used to align the work of an organization.  I am also a huge proponent of generative governance.

Generative questions will help you frame the issue, which will help you set the lens, which will help you make better decisions.  If where you sit determines where you stand, then it’s also true that the lens you set will impact the conclusions you reach.

If you are looking at the success of your agency through the lens of income, then you will be judged based on revenue success, regardless of impact.

If your lens is membership, then you will be judged based on numbers regardless of quality of service to those members.

If your lens is impact, then you care less about the numbers and more about the quality of your programming and its impact on the clients you serve.

A Boys & Girls Clubs Exec I knew when I first joined the movement used to say “we can throw a basketball out in the gym and serve a lot of kids, but we’re not impacting those kids.”

You have to consider the lens to gauge the success.

What’s your lens?  Is it the right lens?

What’s been your experience in framing the question to generate the information and the answers you seek? 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.

Generative Governance

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on October 17, 2013 at 11:45 am

“Governance as Leadership,” by Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan and Barbara E. Taylor, introduced a new paradigm for nonprofit boards. This paradigm is focused on three modes of governance with the third, the generative mode, quickly becoming the new model of choice to improve board process, board outcomes and board member engagement.

Those modes are as follows:

“Type 1- The fiduciary mode, where boards are concerned primarily with the stewardship of tangible assets.

Type 2- the strategic mode, where boards create a strategic partnership with management.

Type 3- the generative mode, where boards provide a less recognized but critical source of leadership for the organization.”

The fiduciary mode is where most boards function. It covers four of the five basic roles of board governance: setting policy, hiring the executive, raising money and acting as the fiduciary responsible agent. This is where the business of the board gets done. It’s not sexy, it may not even be fun, but it is critical.

The strategic mode includes the fifth role: setting the mission, vision and strategic direction for the organization. This is the role that decides or revises why the agency exists, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. It’s a little sexier, and a lot more fun!

The governance mode is, or could be, the more fascinating piece in Board leadership. Most Board members serve to move forward the mission which is reflective of their passion. Yet, most Board meetings are focused on business not mission. Chait et al offers a way to make sure all board members are vested, engaged and participating in the work of the board AND the mission of the agency.

It’s not enough to suggest a new idea; we also have to show people how to implement that idea. Chait, Ryan and Taylor do just that and offer the following:

“Techniques for Generative Boards

  • Silent Starts- Set aside 2 minutes for each trustee to anonymously write on an index card the most important question relevant to the issue at hand.
  • One Minute Memos- At the end of discussions give each member 2-3 minutes to write down any thoughts or questions that were not expressed.
  • Future Perfect History- In breakout groups develop a narrative that explains in future perfect tense how the organization moved from its current state to an envisioned state.
  • Counter Points- Randomly designate 2-3 trustees to make the powerful counter arguments to initial recommendations.
  • Role Play- Ask a subset of the Board to assume the perspective of different constituent groups likely to be affected by the decision at hand.
  • Breakouts- Small groups counter group think and ask: Do we have the right questions? What values are at stake? How else might this issue be framed?
  • Simulations – Trustees can simulate some decisions – not to second guess- but to provoke discussion about the tradeoffs that management faces.
  • Surveys – The board can administer a survey anonymously prior to the discussion of a major issue. For instance: What should be atop the Boards agenda next year? What are we overlooking at the peril of organization?”

If you’ve never been to a board meeting that operates in the generative mode, you are missing out! Some of my clients have split their agenda into three parts, one for each mode. Some have added strategic and generative questions at the end of each session. Some have extended the length of their meetings because their board was so interested in exploring the generative and strategic modes!

I’ve said it before: fiduciary is the price of admission to good governance, but it’s not enough; strategic and generative leadership is what engages Board members and moves the needle for change in our communities. Isn’t that why we serve?

How have you introduced generative governance? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. If you have other ideas or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.

Board Basics

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

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

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

As a quick reminder, those modes are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting ends with any old or new business.

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

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

High Functioning and High Profile?

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

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

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

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

The answers will tell you a lot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

The Role of the Board

In Non Profit Boards on October 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Every time I speak on issues related to nonprofits, and I mean every single time, regardless of the topic, someone, usually a Board member or an Executive Director, asks “What is the role of the Board?” It has happened so often, and so consistently, that I don’t even wait for the question anymore, I just include the information. Then, of course, the question that follows or should follow is “What is The Role of the Nonprofit CEO?”

The Board is responsible for governance, which includes Mission, Vision and Strategic Planning; Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director; acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, setting Policy and Raising Money. Everything (Yes, I really mean everything) else is done in concert with the Executive Director or by the Executive Director.

What does that really mean?

It means the Board sets the direction, often with input from the Exec, and the Exec makes it happen, often with support from the Board.

“Board members are responsible for setting the mission, vision and strategic plan.  The Board sets – meaning discusses and votes to adopt or revise – the mission statement, which answers why your organizations exist. The Board also sets the vision of the organization. A vision statement is a description of what the organization will look like at a specified time, usually 3-5 years, in the future.”

“The Board votes upon the strategic plan, after participating in a strategic planning process “in which 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.” Governance the Work of the Board part 5

It means the Board hires, supports, evaluates and, when necessary, fires Exec, and the Exec hires, supports, evaluates and, when necessary, fires the staff. For Board members, that means that you work through the Executive Director if you have a problem or need something from the staff. For the Exec, even though you don’t need their permission, having input from your Board before you fire a staff member, especially one that is well known, will help build organizational cohesiveness and extend your career longevity.

Fiduciary responsibility means that the Board – and not just the Treasurer but the whole Board- is responsible for safeguarding the community’s resources and ensuring accountability and transparency. They also must understand and formally approve finances, audits, and the 990. Fiduciary responsibility doesn’t end with finances; it also includes programs. Boards are entrusted to understand how and why an organization’s programs fill a need in the community, the numbers of people who participate in those programs and their impact, as well as how those programs connect to mission.

Setting policy is also the role of the Board. Policies are usually recommended, written and, later, implemented by the Exec, but they are voted upon and passed by the Board. Typical policies include personnel, code of ethics/conflict of interests, whistle blower, confidentiality, crisis management and/or communication. Your agency should, and does, also have by-laws (also called codes of regulations) which should be followed, periodically reviewed and if revised, voted upon by the Board.

The last piece of Board responsibility is fund raising. The Exec cannot raise money alone. The Development Director cannot raise money alone. The Board 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, 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.

There is also a strategic and generative piece to Board service, or at least there should be. We have already reviewed strategic planning and I encourage you to expand that to include strategic thinking. 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.

Finally, and least often, there is Chait’s generative mode. Generative is a much deeper conversation about the underlying issues and how to impact them. Richard Chait presents generative discussions as ones that “select and frame the problem.” He says “committees need to think not about decisions or reports as their work product, but to think of understanding, insight and illumination as their work products.”

Honestly, 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.
As always, I welcome your insight and experience.

Board Work that Moves the Needle

In Non Profit Boards on August 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to how the work of the Board gets done.  Mostly it’s by decisions made in meetings and in between meetings. Board members go to a lot of meetings- committee meetings, board meetings, meetings with the Exec – and sure they have work assigned that they complete between meetings, but it all leaves me wondering:  Where’s the strategy?  Where’s the generative thinking?  Where’s the advocacy?  Where’s the impact? How do we know?

Boards approve things, they review things; they talk about things: Are they the right things?

Boards have to have a quorum and must approve financials and meeting minutes and a whole host of other things. Hopefully, Board members also represent the agency in the community, understand and talk about programs, support and evaluate the Executive Director, raise money and give money. These are their fiduciary responsibilities. But surely that shouldn’t be all we have our Board members doing. They are the pillars of our community. They are smart, professional and talented people. Are we correctly utilizing their collective brain power?

Have they decided upon a strategic direction?  Have they discussed the underlying causes that created the issue the organization was created to address?  I am hearing a resounding chorus of NO!

All too often, there is no plan, strategic or even tactical. There are no metrics. There is no discussion of root causes, alternative options or new ideas. There are talented people sitting in a room because they care about the mission of the agency – and in certain but by no means all cases- we are wasting their time. And as such we are wasting our resources.

Strategic planning has fallen out of favor. It kills me to say it but it’s true. Most Board members have sat through at least one planning session, often more, that were long and boring; yet there they sat in an effort to decide the mission and direction of an agency.  And as a prize for their dedication, they got to spend two hours debating if they were going to use the word “a” or “the” in the mission statement.  Then, when they were – thankfully – finished after days or months and considerable expense, the plan sat on a shelf, collecting dust, never to be seen again.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

In the article, Governance as Leadership; An Interview with Richard Chait, (click here to download) Chait discusses his book “Governance as Leadership” (Boardsource) which “recommends reframing board work around “three modes” of governing. The first is the fiduciary mode, in which the board exercises its legal responsibilities of oversight and stewardship. The second is the strategic mode, in which the board makes major decisions about resources, programs and services. The third is the “generative” mode, in which the board engages in deeper inquiry, exploring root causes, values, optional courses and new ideas.”

You may be wondering how to add generative and strategic to your meetings. Strategy is all about connecting the resources to the goals, which, of course, requires having strategic goals. If you don’t, I encourage you to read my previous blog about wheel spinning and begin to discuss planning.  Generative is a much deeper conversation about the underlying issues and how to impact them. Chait presents generative discussions as ones that “select and frame the problem.”   In other words, we’re no longer talking about impact or program outcomes or even the agency itself; we’re talking about how we  – our city, community, country or even world – got here and what it takes to get out of here. “Committees need to think not about decisions or reports as their work product, but to think of understanding, insight and illumination as their work products.”

In order to use the collective brain power of our Boards to move our agencies forward we have to move into strategic and generative governance, while still meeting our fiduciary obligations. The Board Chair and the Executive Director can, should, and I would submit, have the obligation to use the collective brain power of their board to move the needle.  It’s why we’re here.  In the absence of that, we approve things, we attend meetings and we go through the motions, but nothing happens.

I want something to happen; I want the world to change.

What’s been your experience?  How have you utilized the talent on your Board to move the needle? I welcome your comments.

%d bloggers like this: