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In Defense of your Board . . . Let Them Lead.

In Board, change management, consulting, nonprofit organizations on February 20, 2014 at 11:17 pm

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One of the most prevalent challenges for the nonprofits we work with is board development.  The conversation usually starts like this: 

ED: “I really need help with my board.”
HDG:  “What kind of help?”
ED: “They don’t actually do anything. They come to the meeting, I give them reports, they listen, then they give me ideas that I can never implement and they go home. And they don’t support us financially at all or not nearly enough.”
HDG:  “So what do you want them to do?”
ED: “Raise money:”

In defense of your board, you cannot expect them to perform at level that has not been clearly articulated.  The first steps toward rectifying this situation is a review of the organization’s board governing documents, processes, major giving program and cultivation events, and the board’s understanding of their role in the organization.

And, this is what we often find:

  • No role and responsibility documents outlining what each board member is expected to do, when, how, and with whom.
  • A role and responsibility document is in place, but it does not state how much the board member should give, nor what they should be doing or how they should help fundraising.
  • A role and responsibility document that is visionary, but not concrete i.e.”The board member will advocate for the organization in the community.” Huh?
  • A board agenda that has the Executive Director talking 90% of the time.
  • No, or very few, sub committees to do the heavy lifting of the board.
  • A board that is led by the Executive Director, who makes the agenda, sets the tone and runs the meeting.
  • A board chair who has no idea why he or she is there, and what to do once they have arrived.
  • An organization that has not developed a strategy for how their board will govern, and what outcomes and outputs they will expect and measure from the board.
  • A board that is not allowed to lead.

So often we hear from organizations that are challenged by their board’s inability or unwillingness to lead and govern or get involved in moving their organization forward. Most of the time, though, we find that it is the organization that is at odds with what to do with its board. There is a fine line between a board that governs and one that meddles. But even their meddling is often just their way of trying to be relevant in a situation that leaves them feeling lost.

Getting a board development strategy in place, and getting your board working effectively requires only four components:

1. An articulated vision for why your board exists and what you want them to achieve (outputs) and impact (outcomes).

2. A relationship (shared partnership) between you and your board chair. Build this together.

3. A set of governing documents that not only covers legal requirements,  but also communicates your expectations.

4. Programs that give your board freedom to engage Now back away and let them lead.

That’s it. Building your board as a program, with strategy, actions, timeline, expected outcomes, immediately strengthens your board’s position and their leadership role in your organization. Taking the time and investing the resources in board development can, quite often, be the most important thing you do for your nonprofit’s mission.

Empower your board to lead. Free yourself. Improve your results.

Lead or Follow?

In Board, nonprofit organizations on January 13, 2014 at 2:50 pm

lead or followDoes this sound familiar? You are leading your board in a discussion about strategy for fundraising, outlining what is known about your organization’s current philanthropy program. As you ask them to take some time to review the strategic imperatives recommended from the findings, one member raises his hand and says “I think we should just do two mailings a year, no more, and then focus on doing more events. And I think we need more publicity, no one knows about us, that’s the big problem.”

 Somewhere along the line your board was lead to believe that their role is to problem solve. And by problem solve, I mean to direct the organization’s fundraising. And by directing fundraising, I mean doing your job. But, if this sounds all too familiar, how do you refocus your board on the important role they play in governance and oversight?

Getting boards focused, all looking in the same direction, and looking towards the bigger picture is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude, I suggest bringing in a professional. If you are up for the challenge, however, you need to begin with a self-assessment. A self-assessment must be completed and reviewed by the board, and it is only through this effort that they will find the necessary solutions hidden in the information they uncover as they move through the process. Finding an assessment tool is easier than you think. There are a lot of boxed self-assessment tools out there, and Harvest Development Group offers one on our website.

Keep in mind that it is important that the assessment process is driven from within. Board leadership should be suggesting and encouraging the process, not you or the organization. Assuming you have a good working relationship, with authentic dialogue and shared vision with your chairperson (if not, that’s another blog post), then having a candid conversation about the challenges you experience working with the board, accompanied by justification, both qualitative and quantitative, is the starting point. Suggest that the organization will benefit from a board self-review, just as the rest of the organization is reviewed annually. If everything else in a nonprofit is to be measured, it is unwise to exclude the board. With the chairperson leading the effort (or a board development committee, if you are that sophisticated), the medicine may go done a tiny bit easier. Expect some resistance and some sensitivity, because no one likes to be judged, least of which people who have come to not expect it. Once your board is committed to the self-assessment, ask your chairperson to recruit an Assessment Committee who will:

• Review the self-assessment tool and make recommendations on changes. You should provide them with findings showing why certain assessment sections are necessary

• Communicate to the full board the reason for the assessment, the process and the expected outcomes

• Implement and calculate the assessment

• Report on the findings and lead the discussion of the board on the actions to affect change.

Tai chi, is the ancient practice of war by submission. Letting go, allowing leadership in others, encouraging action through quiet movement, can change the board’s role in the organization, improve their performance and enhance the value they bring to your mission. In the end, they will be proud to be a part of your effort.

The Long Tail of Events

In Board, change management, Discussables, Events, Innovation on November 15, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Spirited presentation this morning at the Ct Philanthropy Day Conference, around the translational opportunities with Events. It just takes a new perspective, for everyone, to make what has become a drudgery of futile transactional activities (events) into an amazing value added Long Tail translational opportunity!

Let me tell you what I mean by Long Tail. Webster defines Long Tail as:

A frequency distribution pattern in which occurences are most densely clustered close to the Y-axis and the distribution curve tapers along the X-axis. The long tail refers to the low-frequency population displayed in the right-hand portion of the graph, represented by a gradually sloping distribution curve that becomes asymptotic to the x-axis. In most applications, the number of events in the tail is greater than the number of events in the high frequency area, simply because the tail is long.

Did I lose you yet?!?

What it’s saying simply is the value of what is at the head (left) of a graph is not equal to and is less than the value of what exists collectively within the long line to the right. Here’s what that looks like:

Long Tail Graphic

Long Tail Graphic

In our theory on the Long Tail of Events, that equates to the Event itself being the head and the value from that event being greater than the event, that’s the tail.

Got it?

Measuring the value of our events is a long term view- we don’t measure the value of our acquisition appeal against that single appeal. If we did, we would determine that our ROI was a negative and we would stop. We measure the value of our acquisition appeal against a long term view that includes the cost benefit of collecting new prospects in our major gift pipeline and the cash value of those major prospects over time. Similarly we don’t measure the value of grant writing against a single grant submitted. Losing proposition financially. Instead we measure the value of grant writing against a long term aggregate of return on investment.

Then why do we allow our organizations to continue to measure the value of an event against itself as a single activity?

To expect your event to have a long-term financial value to your philanthropy requires a different perspective on event planning. It changes the way you think about and plan objectives for your events. It turns your inviting process on its head, giving a you a laser focus on attendees, and it places your board central to the development of this Long Tail. It demands data driven strategy on donor engagement and a commitment to numbers and dates as deadlines.

It can be done.

We’ll be developing a webinar on the Long Tail of Events in the coming months. We’ll show you what we mean and I guarantee you’ll walk away wanting to chase the Long Tail.

 

LinkedIn Board Connect

In Board, Discussables, News on September 17, 2012 at 11:32 am

LinkedIn has brought forth another way to use their social media tool. This one is targeted specifically at nonprofit leaders seeking to strengthen and grow their board leadership.

LinkedIn’s new Board Connect, is a suite of tools, including talent finder and a LinkedIn group, that allows nonprofits to ‘advertise’ their organization, mission, vision and goals and to review prospective board members resumes. The hope is that, progressive, caring, thoughtful business leaders will be revealed through this process.

Now for the reality.

Despite many other innovative technological and social media partners considering and launching the same concept – a pool for nonprofits to jump into and peddle their wares- the ability to attract and retain high level leadership is no further advanced.

I commend LinkedIn for their effort. It does no harm, and that is the most that can be said about this endeavor. It feels good for LinkedIn and their leadership team to be doing something – anything – to help the NPO sector. It gives yet another venue for NPO’s to congregate to, in the hopes of landing those really incredible volunteers.

But like the other efforts, it offers only passive development, not active, and creates yet another large room, devoid of substance, but filled with clutter and noise, that can be overwhelming and uninviting to the audience: the prospective business leaders.

A better approach is to create a source for those business leaders interested in seeking a more vested role in the nonprofit sector, to post their interest, areas of interest(types of NPO’s, causes, role seeking) and to have that be presented in LinkedIn as a searchable database. NPO’s have clear guidelines and matrices they use in seeking out and vetting specific people to be on their board. Contrary to common belief (and the way this new LinkedIn resource is designed) it’s not a matter of any captain in the storm or any suitor interested . Board selection is a scientific, strategic process that is lead by a core objective- to secure the right person for the right need in the boards governance goals for the organization.

My hope -and I truly believe LinkedIn is intent on making this a more sophisticated, valuable tool – is that the next iteration leans more toward what the NPO needs in this manner.