Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Best and Not so Best Practices

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Resource Development on February 11, 2015 at 4:03 pm

I’m putting together a webinar on Board Engagement for DonorPath’s (now Network for Good)  Performance Lab series and one of the fun things we decided to include was a list of best practices and also not so best practices. Best practices are a collection of what is considered to be just that: the best practices in our field.

It is a collection of plans, policies and processes that the leaders in our field consider to be excellent and therefore worthy of inclusion on a list. The list is organized by no one and also by everyone.

There are common components of a well run agency and also excellent processes, plans and policies that have been identified by our well respected leaders, institutions and publications. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits published The Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence and described it as “the fun­damental values of quality, responsibility and accountability.” It’s very good; you should check it out.

Unlike an actual election, and very similar to minority communities, the leaders in our field are not elected or appointed to speak on our behalf. Even if they were, we still may not agree with them. But since they’re not, we should all be clear that there is no officially sanctioned list of what makes a best practice in our field, or even what body would sanction such a list.

I share that to say what I think is a best practice, may not be what you think is a best practice. I have not been elected to tell you what should or should not be included on such a list. Of course, neither has anyone else.

There is absolutely general consensus in the field of what it takes to build a sustainable, professional and well run nonprofit that meets its mission and moves the needle forward for its community. There is much available on how to build a great board, what skills are needed for nonprofit leadership and what well run agencies do. If you’ve been reading for a while – and if you have, thank you – you know that I am a big fan of the following:

Best Practice Processes:

  • Orientation and annual training for all board members
  • Annual self evaluation of individual board members that includes questions about board process and an opportunity to request training
  • Generative and strategic discussions at every board meeting
  • An effective board committee structure
  • A trained and talented staff committed to the organization’s mission
  • A passionate, experienced and respected executive leader

Best Practice Policies:

  • Conflicts of Interest policies to ensure that no one puts their personal goals ahead of the agency’s best interests. (Such policies are also required by law.)
  • Confidentiality policies to protect the information with which you are entrusted.
  • Crisis Communication policies to determine who speaks for the organization in an emergency.
  • Background checks for all staff to ensure you protect your clients and your agency.
  • Never alone with a child, two staff in the building at all times and a discussion and policy about what is appropriate contact with kids outside of the program hours and space are critical policies for agencies serving children.
  • Gift Acceptance policies outline what your agency accepts and doesn’t accept as a gift and under what terms.
  • Term Limits for Officers: 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.
  • Goals and an annual evaluation for the CEO. It is very hard to provide an objective evaluation if goals were not set. By what would you measure performance?

Best Practice Plans:

  • Strategic Plans determine where you’re going, how you’re going to get there and how you’ll know once you do.
  • Board Development Plans help you build, educate and perpetuate your board.
  • Resource Development Plans ensure you can secure the necessary resources to serve your clients and meet your mission.

There are also a few not so best practices that I routinely advocate against.

They are:

  • Term Limits for Board Members; I once heard William F. Meehan III, director emeritus form McKinsey & Company (one of our field’s widely respected institutions) at a Stanford Social Innovation Review (ditto) webinar called Better Board Governance refer to term limits as – and I’m paraphrasing here – the wimpy way out. Term limits allow boards to avoid conflict, and depending on what part of the country you operate and the politics of your community, that may feel like a necessary thing. 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 and engaged board members.
  • Give or Get Policies which require individual board members to donate or solicit a minimum amount of money each year. Give or Get policies preclude 100% board giving. I‘ve said it before: any policy that is in conflict with your goal is a bad policy.
  • Executive Committees that routinely vote in lieu of the full board. As I mentioned in How Many Board Members Meeting How Often? “Powerful executive committees who have the authority to act in lieu of the full board take the majority vote and make it minority rule. Let me demonstrate: 24 board members with an executive committee of 4 officers and 5 committee chairs need a majority of that group, the executive committee, to make decisions. That means that 5 people, in effect 20% of your board, are making the decisions. If you don’t have committee chairs on the executive committee, and many agencies don’t, you are down to 3 people deciding for the board, just over 10%.” Powerful executive committees disengage non executive board members, who are the majority of board members, which then creates the need for strong executive committees. It’s a self fulfilling and self destructive prophecy. Disengaged board members create disengaged boards which create ineffective agencies.

Board and executive leadership of a nonprofit is not for the faint of heart. It’s tough; it’s lonely and it’s sometimes scary. It requires a lot of things, but it doesn’t require making it up as you go along. There are best practices to embrace and not so best practices to avoid.

What do you have on your list of best and no so best practices? What would you challenge on 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.

Raising your Profile; Building your Credibility

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on October 30, 2014 at 11:23 am

I was running a Club in Texas, when I was offered the Executive Director position for the Boys & Girls Clubs in Akron Ohio.  I knew the President of the Akron Community Foundation and not another soul in town.  Thankfully, my Board had a plan.

One Board member, who isn’t the mayor of Akron but could have been because he knows everyone, started setting up lunch meetings.  We went to lunch with every community leader in town.  We told them of our struggles; we told them about our kids and what they needed to be successful; we told them our plan to ensure they were, indeed, successful – and that our Club was as well. After 6 months, I, too, knew everyone in town.

What’s the lesson for your organization? There’s actually a few:

  •          Who is on your Board and who do they know?
  •          Will they introduce you?
  •          Do you have a story?
  •          Can you tell it in a way that engages people?
  •          Who picks up the tab?

Now you might thing that it was silly of me to include the question of who pays for lunch on my list of lessons, but I cannot tell you the number of people who have asked.  It matters.  The question of what is a good use of agency resources is a blog for another day, but for today, it’s worth having the discussion and being clear about the answer before you ask board members to set meetings.

Once you do, start having lunch, coffee and breakfast! Get to know people in your community and let them get to know you.  Program officers of foundations are incredibly generous with their time and are interested in learning about your organization. Community leaders, by definition, care about the community.  Go talk to them.  You will be pleasantly surprised by the number of people who say yes to your request for a meeting.

Profile building can and is partially done over lunch, but it only starts at lunch. It doesn’t end there.  To build your profile, you also have to build your credibility and the credibility of your program. Obviously, it won’t be enough to talk about your program if your program isn’t providing excellent services.  Impactful programming is critical.  Benchmark similar organizations, find and implement best practices and monitor and communicate your impact.

Speak in the community.  Most service groups have a speaker at every meeting.  Recruit and train a Public Speaking Team to present at service group meetings and in the community.  It is a wonderful opportunity to get your message out there.  You can also blog about the issues that impact your clients, write op-ed pieces and meet with local politicians.

Is there a Leadership group in your city? Leadership Akron was an incredible experience for me. It contributed to my professional development and knowledge about the city in ways that I could not have replicated on my own.  It also provided incredible resources for my organization. Now that I live in Columbus, I am a member of the Leadership Columbus Alumni group.  Consider participating in your local group.  Most leadership programs offer scholarships for nonprofit senior leaders; do it.  It will be an incredible investment of your time and resources that will pay off in spades.

Figure out the “must attend” event in town, and attend.  When you do, walk around and greet everyone, introduce yourself to people you haven’t been able to get in front of and ask if you can call them for a meeting.  Again, you’ll be surprised at the number of people that say yes.

Finally, join groups that coalesce around the issues you care about.  Most communities have nonprofit executive director groups, monthly or weekly educational forums, and leadership organizations.  Find one and get involved. If there isn’t a group, start one.  We invited all the leaders of agencies that offered after school programming in Akron to a meeting.  Akron had almost 2 dozen after school programs, yet there was no on-going discussions about programming, best practices or service gaps. The discussion that started at that first meeting continued and our group later became the After School Council of Greater Akron.

You can do it!  Profile raising, like everything else that is worth doing, takes time – lots of time.  Spending the time will pay off in spades, for your organization, its mission and the community it serves!

Please let me know how it goes. As always, if you have other ideas for profile building, or suggestions for blog topics, please share and consider hitting the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

Agreements, Vibrancy and Abundance

In Leadership, Organizational Development on September 13, 2014 at 8:28 am

Many nonprofits operate on a model of scarcity. There’s often not enough money, staff or stuff and many decisions get made through the lens of cost.

What if there was another way?

Maureen Metcalf, leadership guru and author of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and workbook series, which includes our book the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives, recently invited me to a Vibrancy Workshop facilitated by Jim Ritchie-Dunham from the Institute for Strategic Clarity. Maureen only invites me to transformational trainings so I was delighted to accept!

Jim started out talking about environments that are difficult, which the group defined as situations in which we don’t feel valued, in workplaces that don’t allow us to be our full selves, working for or with people that don’t allow us to thrive, or even think for ourselves. He contrasted (I just had a flash back to my HS English class) that with environments that do; workplaces where we’re excited to be, doing work that we find meaningful, surrounded by people who value our input.

How do you feel when thinking about those two environments?

Put your hands out. Using your hands as a scale, I want you to consider your left hand the difficult situations and your right hands to be the supportive environments. Raise the hand that reflects how you spend much of your time.

Is your left hand higher than your right? Jim would tell you that is because of agreements you, consciously or unconsciously, made. If you change the agreements, you change the experience, which changes the outcome.

I can hear you out there shaking your head and saying, “I didn’t agree to that.” Some of us agree with our feet, which stay firmly planted where they are, despite our unhappiness. Some of us agree with our words. Some of us with our work, that is disengaged and below what we could do if we were made to feel valued. And some of us take our marbles and find another, more vibrant place to be.

Jim said that places in which we can thrive and people with whom we do thrive are described in words of light: Vibrant. Brilliant. Sunny.

Lack of Vibrancy is the price of not bringing out the best in everyone. When we do that, everyone loses. Vibrant is a long way away from the situation you were thinking about when you raised your left hand. How do we get to vibrant from darkness?

First question: Is the situation you’re in what you believe is the best situation for you?

No?

What does the next level look like?

First stop: find people and situations that are positive deviants, which means exactly what you think: people who are succeeding (positive) despite not following the rules (deviants).

None of us want to be average, right? We know someone in some organization somewhere who is breaking all the rules and, somehow, still excelling at everything they do.

Jim then said something that I loved. He said if you can see it – figuratively or actually – you can become it. You have to step into the potential.

Abundance is the idea that if they can, you can, and we all can. It’s creative collaboration. Change the agreement; change the experience; change the outcome.

Life doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. I don’t have to lose for you to win. You’re not competing against me, anyway. You’re competing against yourself, or you should be.

We are all responsible for our own work. If we agree to that, hold people to those agreements and set up our organizations accordingly, we would be vibrant and our organizations and our world would be abundant!

Have you embraced vibrancy and the theory of abundance? Can you share your experience? 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.

Revising your By-laws?

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on August 25, 2014 at 10:23 am

Boards of Directors should review – and consider if they need to revise – their organization’s by-laws (in Ohio called Code of Regulations) on a regular basis.

When was the last time you looked at yours? Go ahead; pull them out. I’ll wait.

You’re back? Good! Let’s begin.

Does your board meet as scheduled? Most by-laws state that boards will meet, at a minimum, quarterly. My understanding is it is fine if you meet more often. It’s not fine if you meet less often. (This would be a good time to remind you that I am not a lawyer.) If you are only meeting quarterly, I encourage you to meet more often. It’s like the nonprofit version of that old commercial- miss a meeting, you miss a lot.

Do you have the right number of board members? Most initial by-laws are written with three members, though three members are rarely enough to appropriately govern an agency. If your by-laws say three members, I encourage you to consider revising them. I like a range.

For more detailed information on the number of board members, the frequency of meetings or the structuring of by-laws, I encourage you to read How Many Board Members Meeting How Often and Creating a New Nonprofit.

I offer a few more questions for your consideration as related to your by-laws:

Are new members added as stated? Do you follow the process to elect officers and re-elect renewing members?

Do you have a process to remove board members?

Do the committees listed reflect the committees you have? Are those the committees you need?

Do you have dissolution and indemnification statements?

Do you have things in there that should be elsewhere? Conflicts of Interest policies usually stand alone. So do Financial Policies.

Which governance model do you follow? Is that in there? Does it need to be?

What title do your by-laws offer to both your executive leader and the president of the board? Are those the titles you use?

Titles have evolved during my career. It used to be that the senior executive was called the executive director and the leader of the board was called the president.

It is my understanding that the YMCA was the first large organization to challenge that notion. The YM, once upon a time, had branch directors who were expected to raise money in their communities but were having trouble getting in to see business leaders. They attributed it to their titles. As such, the Y changed the branch managers’ titles to be executive directors so that they were held in higher regard and could more easily get into higher-level offices. (I do not know if the YM has called their executive leaders President & CEO all along or if they changed their titles accordingly)

Once they made the change, and some other agencies followed suit, it became very difficult for everyone else to figure out who is an executive director, meaning the executive leader of the organization, or who is the executive director, meaning the senior staff of a branch, unit or facility.

Sometimes I can’t tell either. Once, while I was working with a board to help them select their new executive, I couldn’t figure out if an applicant, who had the title executive director, was actually the executive leader of her organization. I had to ask five different questions to figure it out. (She wasn’t, in case you were wondering.)

So what should you call your executive leader? There are still plenty of executive leaders called executive directors. There are, more than ever, especially in larger organizations, executive leaders that are called President & CEO. Up until recently, I never thought it was that big of a deal. It’s the same job, after all.

What changed my mind? A board I served was considering changing the name of our executive leader when we hosted an event in conjunction with three other agencies. Of the four executive leaders in the room, our executive was the only one with the title executive director. When each of the other leaders was introduced as President & CEO and she was introduced as Executive Director, it became very obvious that we need a title change.

If we as nonprofit leaders want to be taken seriously as the “real” leaders that we are, running “real” corporations, like we do, then we are more likely to be granted that respect when we have the same title, or a better title, as the person to whom we are speaking.

Of course once you change your executive leader’s title to be president you then have to change that the President of the Board’s title to be Chair and the Vice President to be Vice Chair.

They’re the same jobs, but as I’ve said before, any process, or in this case title, that is getting in the way of meeting your goal is a bad process. This one, luckily, is easily rectified, especially if you were revising your by-laws anyway.

A final word on by-laws: It is important that you follow your by-laws. Yet, the funny thing about by-laws is that there is no governing body that will be monitoring if you do. Of course, if you have significant quorum issues, those issues will end up reflected in your audit and any violation of the law is likely to end up in court or the newspaper. For the most part, outside of criminal activity, a civil violation or a hit on your audit, boards are on their own. As such it is important that boards police themselves. The easiest way to do that is to follow your by-laws, review them annually and revise them, as needed, which usually comes out to every 3-5 years.

It’s also critical – and much more difficult – to ensure that you are upholding your governance responsibilities; your executive is appropriately leading your organization, which is meeting its mission, providing excellent service and living its values.

All that starts with the board. And the board starts with its by-laws.

What’s been your experience in agencies following their by-laws? Do you have any funny, 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.

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.

Making the World a Better Place

In Leadership on June 18, 2014 at 11:08 am

My mother died 23 years ago this month, right before I graduated from college. She taught us that we each had an obligation make the world a better place. That has been my inspiration ever since.

My first real job was in a nonprofit. Before applying, I didn’t even know you could get paid to work in a nonprofit. Ever since accepting that job, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about leadership, the issues I care about, and what it takes to move an organization toward excellence.

It’s been a long and circuitous journey through women’s rights, youth development and now to consulting for advocacy, education and social service agencies. Each experience I’ve had has been gratifying, sometimes frustrating, occasionally terrifying and always inspirational.

I have worked with a variety of nonprofit boards and executive leaders to implement stronger and better aligned organizations. I’ve had the privilege to advocate for women’s rights, stand up for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and impact the lives of young people.

I have stood by women as they faced their abusers; held their hands after they were assaulted; and walked a man who had just threatened a child down a long, empty hallway and out of my building. I have faced a room full of angry parents and also rooms full of grateful parents. I have taught kids to believe in themselves and helped communities to believe in their kids. I have turned around agencies that were about to close, helped leaders steer their agencies and helped boards fulfill their roles. I have been threatened and hugged and vilified and honored.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to do this work and I am grateful for the opportunity. It has been an honor and a privilege.

This month’s blog carnival is about innovation and inspiration. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend my friend and colleague Erik Anderson’s post about his journey. It inspired me to finish this piece, which even though I started it a few weeks ago, felt too personal to continue.

Erik’s post also reminded me that when changing the world we each have to work on issues we’re committed to rectifying. These jobs we hold require us to live and breathe our organization’s mission, uphold its values and serve its clients. That means we have to believe in the mission and respect the people that mission impacts. It means we have to want to spend our days, and sometimes our nights, changing our corners of the world. We have to agree with the values of our organization, or find another organization. We have to be clear about our own values, what we care about and how we want to make the world better.

What do you care about?

I care about our field as a whole and believe that when nonprofits are stronger, communities are stronger. I care about leadership and believe that organizations improve or dissolve because of their leaders.

I care about women’s rights; GLBT rights; the disadvantaged and underserved in general and youth, including and in particular those aging out of foster care, urban, rural and GLBT youth.

I want equal rights, equal access, fair laws, good schools, safe communities, the right to control my body and my own medical decisions. I want all kids everywhere, and especially those aging out of foster care, GLBT, urban and rural youth to understand that they have the right and the obligation to become who they are meant to be.

(To any young person who is struggling: Even if your parents or your community doesn’t support you, find someone who will, even if it has to be the person looking back in the mirror. Please….hold on and slog through until you can breathe different air and find a different space to be the amazing, talented and productive person you will become.)

I want excellent nonprofits that impact their clients and move the needle on their issues, with screened, trained and accountable staff, excellent leadership, and boards that understand and fulfill their role, govern their agencies and support their executives.

I want to fulfill my obligation to make the world a better place and I want you to fulfill yours. I also want to make my mother proud.

What do you want? What inspires you? How do you work to make the world a better place? 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.

Hearing what your Board Members are Saying

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on May 7, 2014 at 10:59 am

The sun has finally come out in my corner of the world; I’ve been out and about more and meeting new people. Since all conversations with new people eventually come around to what people do for a living, invariably the topic rolls around to nonprofit boards.

Those conversations, for the most part, have not been positive. In fact, I keep coming up against instances where it seems like nobody is hearing, understanding or responding to what is being said. I’ve wondered repeatedly if we’re all communicating over or around each other.

When seeking to understand, I believe, we each have to think about not only what is being said but also what is behind what is being said. I’m starting to think I’m alone in that philosophy.

My first thought along these lines was a conversation I had with a board member who told me her board had voted to approve a recommendation without anyone in the room questioning the premise of the recommendation. Someone made a motion. It was seconded and unanimously approved. There was no conversation about community impact, resistance or obstacles to be overcome. No one introduced any opposition, or even any questions – fiduciary, strategic or generative. They all agreed that the decision was great, and no one paused to question if it was, in fact, great, or even viable. That, for me, is the definition of group think and why you should not drink the Kool-Aid at board meetings. For more information on both, please see the post Kool-Aid, Group Think and Generative Governance

I’ve also heard of two board members, on the same board, separately informing agency leadership they would not be serving another term. They both said some version of “this is not a good use of my time.” I wondered did the leadership understand that what those board members are saying is “This is a Yes board. We don’t have any strategic or generative conversations. All we do is approve things you either want to do or have already done.”

Then I wondered what did the leadership do with the information they received? Did they think about why it might feel like every meeting is the same? Or did they assume it was the problem of the board members who were leaving? I’m guessing it was the latter. It is much easier to ignore an issue staring you in the face if you can blame the other person, or in this case, persons. Yet, it is rarely so simple. Anytime you have two or more board members who do not renew their terms, it should give you pause.

Finally, I’ve heard of a board member considering not meeting his minimum giving requirement, because no one has asked him for his gift. He had been advocating for annual individual specific asks of each board member since joining the board. To add fuel to the fire, not only was there was no ask made, but there was a chastising at the board meeting of the board members who hadn’t yet given.

I’m not a fan of minimum gift requirements anyway, but for the agencies that have that requirement, it’s still appropriate to formally ask for the donation, especially to the people who have requested to be asked. You can’t always guess what people want, but you can certainly respond to (reasonable) donor requests. Board members who financially support your agency are donors too, and need to be cultivated and stewarded accordingly.

It happens all the time that board members quit – and also that donors stop giving – because the issue they have brought forth or the request they have made goes unaddressed, or worse, un-discussed. It’s one thing if you bring something up, it’s discussed and decided upon, and if you’re not in the room, someone gets back to you to explain why it can’t move forward. It’s a whole other thing if no one gets back to you at all.

I’ve been guilty of it myself. I’ve served and served on several boards, ranging in size from 12-24. There have been instances that board members suggested things I didn’t do, either because it didn’t make sense (to me), wasn’t realistic or wasn’t feasible. I had to learn to ask for more information or a better idea of how the idea might get implemented.

I, like every exec I know, was trying to keep multiple plates in the air and in an effort to not let any one of them fall, I may have neglected to consider, respond or follow up. Did I always communicate well? I’d like to think I did but it’s probably safe to say I didn’t always. Did I lose a board member because of it? I hope not.

I had to learn to ask for more information and to remember that the issue or idea people present is not always the issue at all. The issue is sometimes behind whatever it is that’s being said. It’s up to each of us to figure out what the topic really is and if it’s possible – or reasonable- to address it. Even in the cases where it’s not possible or reasonable, we have to get back to the person who suggested it.

I said we and not you intentionally. Sometimes board members come up with ideas that are not feasible and sometimes not ethical, or even legal. A response by another board member may be received better, which may have the added benefit of being safer for the exec.

I’m going to say (write?) that again: the exec does not always have to be the one to shoot down an idea. The important thing is that someone responds, not necessarily that you respond. While it’s true that any day can be the day you quit or get fired; today does not have to be that day.

Disengagement is one of our field’s largest issues and lack of responsiveness is one of our biggest hurdles. If we want people to take our field more seriously, we have to start hearing and responding to what they’re saying, and what ever’s behind what they’re saying. We have to understand their expectations, and exceed them!

Is anyone else having these conversations? Have you shared concerns or frustration with your leadership only to have them ignored? 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.

Executive Salaries and Other Things that Distract Us

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on April 2, 2014 at 2:41 pm

The Nonprofit Quarterly recently published an article by Rick Cohen that was in support of an article published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about executive salaries. Both articles focused on a new foundation executive who would not release her salary during the interview. The NPQ article was called “Top Nonprofit Execs: Why not just Disclose Your Salaries?” As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the name, it was not particularly objective.

The article basically railed against Judy Belk, the new exec of the California Wellness Foundation, and other foundation executives who also were unwilling to release their salaries in interviews. As evidenced by the following quote, it said they were not transparent.

“Belk’s decision to withhold the publicly required disclosure of her annual salary isn’t a limitation in transparency. Transparency, as when Belk discussed her desire to reveal what happens in the inner workings of the foundation when nonprofits submit their applications into the foundation’s decision-making black box, means going beyond what is required by law. To reveal what the law requires is simply the law. To tell readers and constituents that they’ll get the information when the legal document—the foundation’s tax filing—is made available is a bit of a slap in the face and not in the spirit of transparency.”

These are two of the media outlets that support our field and, to me, it seems like they are on someone else’s bandwagon. An interview with the media, even a field specific media outlet, is not the appropriate place to disclose salary information. It will be disclosed in the 990, is reflected in the budget and many organizations that strive for transparency may share their board approved salary compensation plans, as appropriate.

Asking a new Foundation leader to publicly disclose her salary during an interview seems out of line and inappropriate, which maybe why so many of them refuse to do it. I do not see it as a violation of a commitment to be transparent; I see it as the honoring of professional boundaries.

I was always taught it was rude to ask someone’s salary and also to be careful of what you disclose to the media. I’m guessing these other execs were taught the same thing.

I don’t believe that salary is the salient point anyway. The salary is set by the Board, not the exec. If you really want to talk about transparency, talk about the process by which that salary was set and how that salary is justified. Talk about the job, and how difficult it is. Talk about the education, experience and capacities of the new leader. Talk about the challenges of running a large organization and also meeting its mission. Talk about how our field is tasked with larger expectations, and lower tolerance for risk. Talk about how the assumption that we should all work for nothing is detrimental to our success. Those conversations are far more important that the actual salary will ever be.

Let’s stop jumping on the idea that nonprofit executives should be held to a higher standard, while getting paid a lower salary, yet still expected to disclose their salary at other people whims because they are running a charitable institution.

I believe in transparency. I believe in providing financial statements, the 990s and the audit, and even the compensation plan for an agency when appropriate. However, I do not believe an interview with the media meets the criteria of appropriate or that execs that refuse to release such information are not being transparent.

You can probably tell that I am a bit sick of hearing about why nonprofit executives should not be paid a reasonable salary for the organizations that they run. Many of us have significant experience, several degrees and lots and lots of time spent trying to improve our leadership, our organization and our community. Why are we always up against this microscope of justifying our salaries, with such little understanding of the role we are playing and how it impacts the organization and the communities we serve?

I’m not always on board with everything Dan Pallotta says but his Ted Talk “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong” about how we as a society have no problem paying people well who are not helping others but we have a huge problem paying people well who are – is spot on! We have to change the perception that executive leaders in the nonprofit field are do-gooders that don’t also need to pay mortgages and raise their children and shouldn’t be paid an equitable salary for their education and experience.

It is holding us back and every newspaper that jumps on the bandwagon to support that perception is distracting us and our communities from the task at hand.

Have you read the articles? What do you think about execs disclosing their salaries to reporters? What’s your definition of transparency? 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.

The Trifecta Triangle: Ethics, Values and Integrity in Nonprofits

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on March 19, 2014 at 10:34 am

I just read a great post called How Did they Get my Name? about agencies selling donor information. It got me thinking about ethics in our field and also the differences between words we often use interchangeably. Those words are ethics, integrity and values.

Values, when used in the field, primarily refer to organizational values. I usually explain them as the ideas that are valued by the staff and board of an organization. That could be communication, collaboration or individual accomplishments (not usually both), honesty, high ethical standards, or a whole host of other things. Organizational values are not necessarily things you’d include when listing your personal values, though of course they might be. This is not to say that your personal values do not need to be aligned with your organization’s values, because they do. It is intended to mean that we all might not list the same things that our organizational values include.

Integrity in our field – and everywhere else – means doing what you say you’re going to do.

Ethics is a moral code of conduct or principles by which you make decisions, which should also be made in concert with your values.

Anytime you’re talking about ethics, you’re also to talking about values and integrity. They are the 3 sides of a nonprofit’s top three triangle of consideration – the trifecta triangle. There are a few buckets where the triangle consistently comes into play in the nonprofit arena. The first is donor interaction.

You have to appropriately steward your donors and part of appropriately stewarding is doing what you say you’re going to do with their gift (integrity) and also their information (ethics). The above post is about nonprofits selling donor information. It is allowable by AFP’s Ethical Principles.  The author’s position and mine too, is that it is unethical and that if agencies are going to do it, donors should be given a way to either opt out or, preferably, opt in. I’d take it a bit further.

I challenge AFP to reconsider their position. Nonprofits should not be selling donor information. To me, the idea flies in the face of our standards. It also seems to be contrary to our goals. If we want to retain a donor, selling their information so another agency can attract them as a donor is counterproductive. I’ve said it before: any process that goes against our goal is a bad process.

While we’re on the topic of ethics in fund raising, let me take this opportunity to encourage you to avoid any practitioner who offers you a fund raising model based on commission. AFP’s code prohibits commission based fund raising. Good for them. Commission based fund raising is unconscionable. You should never hire someone on a commission basis to raise contributed income for your organization – that includes grants, special events, major gifts and every other type of resource development. Consultants should offer you a price based on the project at hand or at an hourly rate. Fundraising should not be done on commission.

Finally, and before I move on, development directors can maintain the relationships they cultivate and it is perfectly acceptable for them to continue a relationship created at one agency when they move on to a new agency. It is very hard to un-know someone and no one would expect you to.  However, it is not acceptable – or ethical – to take lists of donors with you when you leave, nor is it acceptable for you to use that list to prospect new donors for your new agency.

Our trifecta triangle also comes into play in other ways related to income, and not just contributed income. Ethics are critical to how you manage and spend your agency’s resources, which should be in accordance with GAAP standards. There should be a finance policy that you follow. It should include how and what gets bid out and how decisions are made once it does. Finally, there should be a salary compensation plan to ensure you are paying a fair wage relative to your expectations, the position, your community and your field.

There are additional considerations related to staff remuneration, specifically ones that are or should be in line with your organizational values. Staff should get paid the same amount for the same job, based experience and education, regardless of their race or gender.

Nonprofits serve to change the world and, often, to move forward a social justice agenda. We need to start with ourselves, which means that we need to ensure gender and racial parity in all of our compensation planning.

I recommend you have a diversity policy and that you go out of your way to ensure diversity of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, orientation, age and experience, all of which will contribute to diversity of thought on your staff and also your board. Different experiences around the table contribute to better generative discussions and better decision making.

Ethics, values and integrity should be first and foremost in social service agencies when considering client interaction. Many of our agencies are seeing people at their worst; when they are scared or hungry or in need of something that far exceeds their reach. How we enter into and manage that relationship is critical.

How are you training your people to deal with clients outside and inside the building?  How does your staff handle it when they run into clients in the community? What about in the waiting room?  Do you train your team to look people in the eye while walking through the room or to avert their gaze?  Do you lock up client files?  Who has access?  When and under what circumstances do you release information?  How do your agency’s values ensure your clients are dealt with in an ethical manner, and with integrity?

The triangle isn’t just operational. It’s also impactful at the board level. Organizations should have a conflict of interest policy and form that each board member signs annually. They should also have a whistle blower or ethics policy. Board members will occasionally come up with things that are wacky (read dangerous) or off mission. Our job as staff (and fellow board members) is to reel them in and make sure that we uphold the ethics of our organization. Unethical or illegal actions have to be addressed, regardless of the position of the actor.

When you put yourself out there as the change agent in a community, you have to be above reproach. The trifecta of ethics, values and integrity can ensure that your agency is deserving of the resources of your community and up to facing its challenges.

When do you think values, integrity and ethics come together to impact our sector?  What is your opinion of agencies selling donor information?  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.

%d bloggers like this: