Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘non profit excellence’

Things Nonprofit Boards of Directors Can Do, But Shouldn’t

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Resource Development on December 13, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Serving on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit is an honor and a privilege as well as a job and a liability.  As with any job, there are things that you cannot do because they’re illegal and things that you should not do because they’re inappropriate and/or unethical.

Here is a list of things Board members shouldn’t do, even though, technically, they can.

Pay Yourselves

I had the privilege of co-facilitating a training recently and no less than five representatives of different agencies stood up and asked us follow up questions when we said Board members shouldn’t get paid.

Here are a few of the questions:

“Can we pay them a stipend?”

“Can we give them a gift card?”

“We really can’t pay them?”

Um…no.

It is not illegal to pay Board members, but it is widely considered to be inappropriate in a charitable institution that is soliciting donations from its community. The one exception is when the (paid) executive director has an ex-officio seat on the Board. Other than that, staff shouldn’t be on the Board and the Board shouldn’t be paid.

You can pay mileage to and from the Board meeting and reimburse expenses when Board members are on agency business. You can, but you really shouldn’t, pay Board members for doing the work of the Board of a community agency.

Assign Work to Staff, other than the CEO

Boards have one employee, the CEO.  Every other employee works for that CEO.  The CEO’s role is to lead the staff, support the Board, manage the day to day operations and serve as the face of the organization in the community. It is the CEO’s role to execute the strategic plan in support of the mission and vision of the organization.

It is hard to sit in a Board committee meeting that is staffed by a senior yet non-executive leader of the agency and not assign work to that staff member. Work often gets assigned in such meetings and it likely there is a process in place for the staff member to go back to the CEO and update her on the results of the meeting. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is the Chair of the committee or of the Board directly assigning work to a staff member, outside of a committee or Board meeting and unbeknownst to the CEO.

When Boards choose to not honor the “one employee” rule, and assign work to staff, it quickly becomes very confusing whose instructions take precedence and whom will be held to account. It also plants a seed that challenges the CEO’s legitimacy.  That seed (of dissent) grows and eventually it becomes difficult for the CEO to maintain his or her position, either because they quit, or challenge the Board’s overstep and are fired.

Hire Staff

Since we’re already here, let’s keep going. The only staff Boards should hire is their CEO. All other staff should be hired by that CEO. There will come a time when you do not have a CEO and also have other positions open. It will seem reasonable to try to hire some of those positions in the interim. Resist!

You don’t know what skills your new CEO will have, so it is unlikely you will be able to hire someone to complement those skills. Unless you have organizational values that you will expect your CEO to honor (which you should also be asking about in the CEO search process), you won’t know which values are important to your new CEO and won’t be able to see if the person you want to hire is a match. It is as likely that whomever you hire will not be a good fit for the team already in place and since you know them but don’t directly work with them, you might not be able to assess that.  You want the CEO to build their own team. That may mean you have to let them.

If you must, hire someone as a temporary with the option to stay at the discretion of the new CEO. That sets the tone for both the new person and the new CEO that the Board understands the difference in roles.

Avoid Fund Raising

Boards are tasked with securing the resources of the organization. I’ve heard consultants say that Board don’t have to fund raise, but it is very rarely true. Fund raising is a group effort, led by the leaders.

The CEO cannot raise money alone. The Development Director cannot raise money alone. Fund raising works best in a culture of philanthropy when both the staff and the Board are working together.

The Board’s role is to set the fund raising goal, financially support the agency themselves, embark on the campaign, open doors, introduce staff, “make the ask” when appropriate, pick up the tab for lunch when possible, and thank the donor.

The staff is responsible for training the Board, coordinating the assignments, preparing the askers with relevant donor information, drafting and supplying whatever written information will be left with the donor, including a letter asking for a specific dollar amount, attending the meetings as necessary and documenting the meeting in the database as well as writing the formal thank you note, and then creating a plan to steward the donor.

Unless you are getting all of your money from program fees, and if you are you may have issues with the public support test, fund raising is one of the five roles of the Board.

Do Business with the Agency you Serve

The law allows Board members to “do business” with the agency they serve if it is at “fair market value.” Do not be fooled. This is a case of the law allowing something that it’s likely public opinion will not support. Just because something is allowed does not make it right. It is an enormous conflict of interest and a quick way to get a spot on the front page of the paper for all the wrong reasons.  If you are on the Board, do not do business with the agency you serve.

What things have you seen Boards do that they shouldn’t?  Any advice to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

Creating Board Buy-In

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on March 18, 2016 at 9:00 am

I have found myself uttering this statement more than a few times in the last month: “If you include your team- board or staff- in the direction setting process, they will be more willing and likely to execute the strategies needed to accomplish the goal.” The only way to get buy in on a plan is to create it and the only way to create it is to involve people in the process, and then continue to engage them in the execution.

I know dozens of nonprofit CEOs, maybe hundreds. Each and every one of them gets up every day to do what they believe is best for their organization. Yet, they don’t always build the buy-in to accomplish the goals. Then they get frustrated because the board doesn’t participate. Or the board gets frustrated because they believe their time is not being valued or their input is not being sought. Or the staff gets frustrated because they’re being instructed on what to do without being told why, or sometimes how.

Why is this happening so consistently in our sector? Because many of our leaders have been trained on a premise that is inaccurate. The premise is that it is the CEO’s role to set the strategic direction and everyone else will fall in line. That is just not the case. It may be the case in the for profit field and because our field reflects so much of that field it gets very confusing. In the nonprofit field, one of the 5 roles of the Board is to set the Mission, Vision and Strategic Direction of an agency. That is not a role that can be farmed out to the Executive Director.

Here is some evidence of the faulty premise based on actual statements I have heard people say over the last 10 years, paraphrased and possibly softened or hardened over time and repetition. (I could go back further, but why?)

I Don’t Want to Bother Them

“My board is busy.” “My board is powerful” “They don’t have time for this.” All of which may be true. That is probably what attracted them to you and you to them, but they have the job. They have been appointed to govern your agency. This is governance.

I Don’t Trust Them

“This is my agency; it’s my baby.” “They may choose to go a different direction than the direction I want to go.”

One of the hardest pills to swallow for founders and executives who didn’t come up through our field is this one, very large, point: We are professional nonprofit leaders working for a Board that may not be as well versed in nonprofit law, the issue our agency exists to impact or Board process.

That Board has collectively been appointed to govern our agency. They speak with one voice and with that voice can fire us, the agency’s leader, change the agency’s mission and do whole lot of other things, some of which has the potential to be damaging, and not only to us.

It’s why building and training the board is so important. It’s why professional development for you and your team is so valuable. It’s why setting a strategy that everyone has bought into is critical.

Without each, there is the very real potential for chaos.

Why is my Board not more involved?

“Why don’t the committees meet?” “What are they not helping me raise money?” “I don’t have time have to stop what I’m doing to help them do it.” “Shouldn’t they already know this stuff?”

You’ve heard me say it before: You will be subject to whomever trained your board members before they came to you, which may be no one. If you want your Board to speak with one voice, to understand their role and the expectations of that role, to understand your role, and the responsibilities within each, you will have to train them.

Board work is primarily done by committees. Executive Directors support, which sometimes means encourages the Board to adopt, a committee structure. Once they have, you will then have to support them in fulfilling their expanded role AND- this a big and – go back to doing your job and stop doing theirs. (This is much harder that it sounds!) For more information on how to do that, please click here to see the last point in this post.

Creating Board buy in is the difference between a plan that gets written by you in your office or in a room in which everyone is proud to be. It’s the difference between the final product sitting on a shelf or getting executed. It’s the difference between your agency moving forward or spinning in circles. Build the buy-in. Create the plan. Move your mission forward!

What have you done to build Board buy-in? What are some faulty premises that you’ve seen? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Wishes for 2016 for the Nonprofit Field

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

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

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

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

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

What are your wishes for our field and also your resolutions to make them happen? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

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.

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 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 have the authority to 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.

What if 2015 is the Year of Excellence?

In Leadership, Organizational Development, Resource Development on January 6, 2015 at 12:59 pm

People always ask me about my values. When you talk about values as often as I do, you’d better have thought about your own. My company’s values are responsive, accurate, reflective of best practices, honest and flexible. My personal and professional values are honesty, integrity, respect, and professionalism. I believe they align. If you’ve been reading for a while -and if you have, thank you! – then you know I think it’s critical that a leader’s values align with their organization’s values.

My friend and colleague Maureen Metcalf’s work on Integrative Leadership recommends that each of us list out our values and then drill down to the one that is most center to our being. For me, that is excellence. It encompasses all my other values and also gives me something to work toward every day in all that I do.

I’m quite confident that I am not alone in that. My fellow nonprofit leaders do the same thing, within their own set of values. Still, I always wonder if the values of our leaders and in their organizations are reflected enough in our work in the field.

Too often things are allowed that make no sense. Things that are baffling, or silly, or dangerous or too expensive to justify, yet there they are anyway.

What if we stopped doing that?

Slate published a fascinating and quite disturbing article a few years back called Can the Cans: Why Food Drives Are Terrible Idea. As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the title, it’s about why food drives are expensive for the food banks they support, ineffective for the families they serve and not the best use of anyone’s time or resources. Yet, food drives happen all the time in communities across the country.

Here’s a quote that pretty much says it all: “Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food providers can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.” She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost you $2 per pound retail. You’d be doing dramatically more good, in basic dollars and cents terms, by eating that tuna yourself and forking over a check for half the price of a single can of Chicken of the Sea.”

Let’s do some math. Assuming the article is right, food providers pay 5% of whatever it costs you to purchase food that will later be donated to a food provider. That same food cost you 20 times what it would cost them to buy. They (food providers) then have to have someone accept the food, sort it, check it against recall lists and expiration dates, stack it and disseminate it. Your cost plus their staff and volunteer time, and the opportunity cost of what else could be being done, equals a lot of money! Food providers could better spend that money.

What if we stopped doing that? What if we as a field said “we are so grateful for your interest in our agency: would you consider donating a different way?” Or what if we accepted the food donation and educated the donor about the cost vs. benefit and also the economies of scale?

Please don’t get me wrong. I want all of the people who have food drives to continue to work to support their favorite food providers. I just want them to support them in a way that adds to the agency’s feeling of abundance, rather than contributes to their scarcity. Every drive reminds people that there are those who are hungry in our midst. We cannot lose that. We can be smarter about how and what we donate, and how our agencies disseminate information and accept donations.

Just because something is right for a donor, doesn’t make it right for an organization. We have all turned down gifts. Many agencies have (or should have) gift acceptance policies that list what they accept and also what they do not accept. Broken TV? No. Stained clothing? No. Property that has had hazardous materials stored on it? No. Donation from someone or some entity we – for whatever reason – don’t want associated with our agency? No.

We say no to gifts all the time. We can find – and most of us have- a way to retain a donor and redirect a gift. What if this was the year we started doing just that?

We also do or allow a lot of other things as a field that make no sense. As mentioned in Raising Our Collective Standards “There are a small amount of great agencies out there doing great work. More often there are agencies that are great at one thing, and mediocre at others. So perhaps the program is strong but the board is weak. Or the grant writing is strong, but the books are un-auditable. Or the executive is well trained but the staff is not. It happens all the time in every community, yet we all know that when any non profit anywhere does something unethical, illegal or inappropriate we are all painted with that same brush.”

I am quite tired of that brush. I want 2015 to be the year we get a new brush, new expectations and new plans to get to excellent.

What if we:

  • helped, trained or allowed our boards to fulfill their governance responsibilities?
  • allowed our teams to fulfill the boundaries of their role and gave them the resources to do so?
  • stopped allowing mediocre programming and dangerous policies?
  • made decisions on what was best rather than what was safe or easy?

What if we figured out the least effective process, program or person in each of our agencies and put together a plan to address it?

What if we held our selves, our teams and our partners accountable? What if we demanded excellence? What if we embraced the theory of abundance? What if we upheld our values and insisted others uphold theirs? What could we accomplish then?

What would you address or change about our field? Do you agree that canned food drives are ineffective? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Serving at the Pleasure of the Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s been your experience in serving at the pleasure of a board? Do you have any amusing, scary or appalling stories to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Board 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.

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.

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. (I made that up. Please let me know if you like it.) 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.

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