Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘nonprofit best practices’

Who Trained Your Board?

In Non Profit Boards on December 13, 2017 at 8:35 pm

The sentence I have repeated the most this month is this “your board will be as good as whomever trained them, which was possibly no one.” I’ve said that nine times, thus far, and it’s only the 13th.

Your Board will only be as good as whomever trained them, which actually may have been no one. The vast majority of Board members I have come across in my 25+ years in this field, including earlier in my career some of my own, have not been formally trained to their role.

Untrained Board members will do what they think is right, which may or may not be aligned with anything anyone else is doing, may or may not be aligned with the strategic plan of the agency and may not, in fact, be right.

Whose fault is that? It’s ours. Executive leaders are responsible for ensuring good Board process. Sure, it’s up to actual Board members to follow that process, but it’s our jobs to make sure it’s there to be followed.

We have a horrible history in this field of following the baptism by fire training model. It’s how I was trained. It’s likely how you were trained. It’s a bad model. Here’s the truth:

If you are frustrated that

  • your Board is not doing their job
  • they keep overstepping into your job
  • you keep having to overstep into their job
  • your board president is micromanaging
  • your board is not raising money
  • your board glazes because they do not understand the financials

It may be because they don’t understand what their job is- BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TRAINED THEM. If you want your board members to know what their job is, it’s your obligation to train them.

Just so we’re crystal clear, when I say trained, I don’t mean give an orientation on your agency (though props to you if you do that). I don’t mean handing new Board members a packet. Let me say once and for all: there is no such thing as training by Board packet. That’s not training. That’s reading. It’s not nothing, but it’s not enough.

I recommend you offer an actual Board training, annually or more often if you can get away with it, that outlines:

  • Board Role and Responsibilities
  • Duties under the Law
  • An overview of the intent of by-laws (called Code of Regulations in Ohio) and the specifics of yours
  • Officer Roles and the Executive’s Role
  • Committees structure, charts of work, goals and expectations
  • Conflicts of Interests
  • Board Governance Models
  • Basic Rules of Roberts Rules of Order (if that’s the model you follow, and it is for most agencies)
  • Meeting Structure
  • Governance Modes and Generative Governance Techniques

What do you have here? An opportunity! Float the idea. Ask about what your Board is interested.  What would they like to learn?  Make sure you offer options.

Here are some for your and their consideration:

  • Art of the Ask
  • Board Process – agendas setting, committees,  strategy, structure, engagement
  • Basic Board responsibilities- fiduciary and legal
  • Board vs Staff roles
  • Best Practices of Effective Boards
  • Mission relevant information

In the absence of Board training, executives are sometimes, either by choice or by vacuum, put in the position of fulfilling roles that are not their roles to fill. If you are doing their job, they are not. That also means you are not doing your job. Just because it needs to be done does not mean it needs to be done by you. Train your Board to fulfill their role, and then let them. If they aren’t doing what you want, it may be because you’re doing it. Stop.

It’s almost 2018, and as I mentioned in 8 things to stop doing in 2017, “the work of the Board gets done by committees. If you do not have committees, I encourage you to work to introduce them. Please click over to read Board Work via Board Committees.

In the absence of committees or even in the presence of them, you may still be doing their job. The easiest way to tell if you are is to consider who speaks the most at Board meetings. If it’s you, there’s your answer.

If they don’t do it and you do, you’ll keep doing it. You have to give it back.

How? By saying to each committee chair “I just learned that the Chairs of each committee should be leading the committee meetings and giving the committee reports at Board meetings. Would you be willing to do so? I’m happy to sit with you prior to the meeting and go over the report and help brainstorm the answers to expected questions.” “Oh, you don’t want to or won’t be there?”

Yes I know this is where you step into the breach. Resist.

“Ok, who should we ask to report instead?”

You can set committee chairs up to succeed. You can call and ask them to set a committee meeting. You can even suggest times, date and write the agenda. You can send out the invitations. You can prep them to chair the meeting. You can whisper in their ear during the meeting and even type up the minutes afterward. But you can’t lead the committee meeting or report out on it at the board meeting.

If you have tried and failed to give back the work of the committee to its Chair, you then can go to the Board Chair and/or the other Officers and ask for advice. Like this “Committee X hasn’t been meeting and /or seems to be having a hard time achieving their goals. Would you mind checking in with them and nudging them along?” “Oh, you have and nothing has changed? How would you like to handle that?”

While it is your Board to help develop, it’s not your Board to run or to manage. It’s not your committee and it’s not your meeting. It’s a Board meeting. The Board members should be talking; you should be there to listen, answer questions, present your report, make recommendations and offer support and guidance. You should not be the person in the room talking the most. If you are, they are not. We want them to lead. That may mean you have to let them.

Set your Board members up to succeed and they will help you lead your agency to heights you can’t even imagine today. Your agency will be stronger for it. As an added bonus, you’ll be less frustrated.”

Executives get a lot done by sheer willpower. Strong executives coupled with strong Boards, can lead our agencies to places no leader can get alone. Together, we can be unstoppable and because of the strength of our nonprofits, our communities can be stronger.

How have you trained your Board?  Board members, how were you trained? How has either improved your agency? 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

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.

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