Blog Archives

Larkin Center evolves for 117 years, and then it ceases to exist

larkin2Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Survival Is Not Mandatory,” John talks about how change is occurring all around us all of the time. Organizations need to make the decision to adapt to those changes or risk going out of business.

On Wednesday afternoon, I received the following email in my inbox from a local non-profit organization with whom I’ve worked with and supported over the last 13 years.

A Farewell Thank You to Larkin Center Supporters

The Larkin Center has been a valuable part of the Elgin area for over 117 years. Unfortunately, the Center has experienced financial challenges at a time when demand for its services has increased. We have been in discussions with several strategic partners over the last 18 months to secure the long-term future of the Center.

As of last Friday, the effort collapsed and we are working with appropriate state agencies to transfer contracts and transition our clients as a result, it saddens us to announce that the Center will no longer be able to sustain itself after Friday, October 18, 2013.

The Larkin Center clients and staff would like to thank the many individuals and organizations that have supported our mission throughout the years and have truly made a difference in the lives of our clients.

Larkin Center has adapted to all of the changes throughout the years. They were founded more than 100 years ago as an orphanage. Over the course of time, orphanages disappeared from our communities, and Larkin Center evolved into an agency offering residential services to children who had trouble surviving in a state-run foster care system.

larkin4As the years passed, Larkin Center added more services including a school for children struggling with behavior disorders and counseling services for adults.

It is obvious to me that Larkin Center’s staff and board understood that “survival is not mandatory,” which is why they kept evolving and changing with the times. I think it is this realization that makes this closure so difficult to swallow.

Is it possible that there comes a time when adapting to change and evolving is not possible? Do organizations have a life span much like human beings?

The sadness of this moment makes it impossible for me to go down this road and contemplate the answers to these questions.

Instead, I want to celebrate. That’s right. You heard me correctly.

larkin1There will be lots of news coverage about the “failure“. Many people will weigh-in with what they think went wrong and what could’ve and should’ve been done differently.  There might even be a victory lap taken by a few Elgin city council members who openly fought with Larkin Center because they didn’t think “those kids” belonged in our community.

I won’t touch any of these topics with a ten foot pole. At least not today.

Instead, I urge all of you to take a moment to think about the heroes who fought to the very end to save Larkin Center.

When I think about the countless number of volunteer hours invested in strategic planning and exploring merger possibilities over the last 18 months, I want to honor those efforts.

When I think about the Larkin Center staff who persevered through furloughs and late paychecks because they believed in saving this agency’s mission, I want to honor those efforts.

larkin3When I think about the donors who invested in efforts to save this organization in the final months and years of its life, I want to honor those efforts.

When I think about the tens of thousands of children and adults (if not more), whose lives were touched and changed by Larkin Center, I want to honor those efforts.

There will be plenty of time to dissect what happened and learn lessons from Larkin Center, but please join me in honoring the accomplishments and hard work of so many people.

Sigh! As always, John is right . . . “Survival is not mandatory.” But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate 117 years of evolution and the will to survive.

You can join me in remembering Larkin Center and honoring the organization, its accomplishments and its volunteers and staff members by recalling a memory and sharing it in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health (and continued evolution)!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Non-profit board and staff go together like chocolate and peanut butter

at each others throatOver the years, I’ve met non-profit board volunteers who didn’t see value or the need for staff. Likewise, I’ve met countless numbers of staff who complain about their board members. I’ve also met executive directors who deliberately do things to disengage their board volunteers (e.g. taking on fundraising responsibilities, reducing the number of board meetings, etc).

Why is it that these two very important stakeholder groups sometimes can’t get a long? I suspect the answer to this question is layered and complicated, but the following must be in the top three:

  • There is a blurry understanding of what each other’s roles are.
  • There is an unequal division of responsibilities.
  • No one is paying attention to what it takes to nurture a productive relationship.

Last week, I was on vacation in Michigan visiting friends. One of those visits was with someone who served on a local non-profit board. He served for more than a decade, and he was the board president for almost one-third of his tenure. When I asked him how things going, the news wasn’t good. He was burned out. His fellow board members were burned out. Things were falling apart. A merger with a neighboring agency was inevitable.

When I asked “What happened?” the answer was simply: “We don’t have any staff. It is an all-volunteer agency. It is us against the world.

I think it is an indisputable fact that . . .

Board need staff AND staff need the board!

So, what can be done to turn this relationship FROM something that looks like the scene at the end of the movie “War of the Roses” TO something like this vintage 80′s television commercial:

I’ve reached back into an old board development training manual and found the following characteristics of an effective board-staff partnership:

  • Common expectations
  • Cooperative planning
  • Open and honest communications
  • Respect
  • Mutual evaluation

If board and staff can accomplish these things, it will result in clarity around the following questions:

  • Where are we going?
  • Why?
  • How are we going to get there?
  • How will we know if we achieved what set out to do?

Have you ever worked for a non-profit agency where board and staff weren’t on the same page? How did it make you feel? What was the result? How does your current agency achieve some of the characteristics spelled out in the aforementioned bullet points? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Engaging your non-profit board volunteers more effectively

engagementBoard member engagement is a common thread running through many of my blog posts. This isn’t because I’m a broken record. The fact of the matter is that so many of the things that plague non-profits are simply “symptoms” of a bigger problem. Yep, you guessed it . . . the root cause of many of our challenges in the can be traced back to our boards.

So, a few days ago I received an email from Suzanne Culhane. I don’t know Suzanne, but she is a fundraising consultant for Bob Carter Companies. Apparently, one of my posts hit her just right, and she took to heart my frequent rally cry at the end of many of my posts to “. . . please share your thoughts . . . we can all learn from each other . . .”

So, in the spirit of complying with my own point of view, I’m going to use my bully pulpit this morning to share Suzanne’s tips on “How to get your board members to be more effective advocates for your cause“.

Here is what she recommends:

  • Only elect board members who are passionate about the mission and rank the organization as number one or two in terms of their own volunteer and philanthropic priorities.
  • Implement an annual give/get requirement end enforce it!  This is best done through an annual commitment form which includes personal fundraising goals and volunteer responsibilities (e.g. committee and event involvement).  This keeps board members focused on giving personally and asking others to do so.
  • Conduct an annual commitment review session should be conducted with each board member.  In addition to personal giving and fundraising, this individual meeting should also offer the opportunity to discuss the board member’s experience of serving, any unfulfilled interests, challenges and concerns.  That is, the organization must regularly invite individual feedback from leaders.
  • For empowerment, periodic interactive workshops should be conducted and all board members should be fully support by the staff in their undertakings on behalf of the organization.
  • Celebrate all accomplishments and victories as a team!  Organizational impact and fundraising results should be regularly shared with the board.

For the record, I love all of these ideas (except I waffle on the give/get policy and only suggest it when a board’s culture is devoid of philanthropy). I’ve personally used all of these suggestions when I was on the front line and as a consultant. They are best practices, and they work!

So, let’s keep this going. Sharing is fun. What else do you do at your agency to engage your board volunteers? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. Why? Yep, you guessed it . . . because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

What does the non-profit leader of tomorrow look like?

sleepless1Last week a dear non-profit friend of mine from California couldn’t sleep. She tossed and she turned. Ultimately, she got out of bed, turned on her computer and started talking into a microphone. When I woke up in the morning in my bed in Elgin, Illinois, there was an email sitting in my inbox with a voice file attachment. Her words have tumbled around in my head for a week, and I’ve decided to enlist your support in dissecting them.

The gist of her recording pertained to non-profit boards. Here is a synopsis of what she said:

  • There are too many non-profit boards that just don’t work.
  • Too many board members either don’t understand their roles/responsibilities or turn a blind eye to certain roles that make them feel uncomfortable (e.g fundraising and resource acquisition).
  • Are there occupations that are better suited for non-profit board leadership (e.g. finance people compared to artists)?
  • Should non-profit agencies incorporate personality testing into their board development process because certain personalities are better suited to serving on a non-profit board?

After a week of contemplative thought, I honestly don’t know how I feel about anything she said. I am looking forward to you weighing in with your thoughts using the comment box at the bottom of this blog.

Here is what I have concluded:

  • Boardroom diversity is important. We don’t need all of the same types of people sitting around a table in a simulated echo chamber. (I am not implying that was what she was saying, but I do worry that it could be an unintended consequence.)
  • Understanding roles/responsibilities and executing them are vital to non-profit health. The non-profit sector needs to get better at recruitment, management and evaluation or suffer the consequences.
  • The characteristics and traits of an effective non-profit executive director (aka CEO) are changing with the times, and hiring the right person might make all the difference in the world when it comes to board development, board governance and team cohesiveness from the front line to the boardroom.

sleepless2After listening to my friend’s recording, I started Googling around and searching for anything that anyone might have written about characteristics and traits of effective boards. I was especially intrigued by her question about incorporating personality testing into the board development process. After all, many workplaces are incorporating this type of assessment into their employee hiring process.

I didn’t really find much of anything that resonated, but there was some interesting stuff on Myers-Briggs personality testing that pertained to the non-profit sector. Here are some of the better links:

While I suspect you may find these links interesting, they still didn’t help me process what my sleepy California friend had ignited in my head. And then I came across an online post at Ivey Business Journal titled “Profiling the Non-Profit Leader of Tomorrow“.

This article focused on the executive director as the linchpin to what my friend had identified. They identified 15 “must-have” attributes that a non-profit leader must possess in order to be successful. Those attributes are as follows:


  • Strategic thinker
  • Relationship builder
  • Collaborative decision-maker
  • Entrepreneurial achiever
  • Effective communicator
  • Change leader
  • Inspiring motivator

Personality Traits

  • High integrity
  • Adaptable/Agile
  • Perseverant/Patient
  • Interpersonal sensitivity
  • Passionate about the mission


  • Financial acumen
  • Deep sector-specific knowledge
  • Understanding & valuing diversity

I suspect a number of these competencies and skill sets also can be applied to your board development process.

If I’ve piqued your curiosity — and I suspect that I have — then I encourage you to click-through to the Ivey Business Journal article and keep reading. Enjoy!

Take a good hard look in the mirror this morning. How many of these attributes do you possess? How do you know you possess them? Do you conduct 360 assessments asking for your employees’ feedback? If so, what do they say about you and these attributes? Does your board development process look for volunteers with these attributes? If so, what tools do you use to help identify these attributes?

In addition to sharing your thoughts about these questions in the comment box below, I welcome your thoughts about the question I asked earlier in this post about my friend’s online recording.

We can all learn from each other. Please take a minute out of your busy day to share with your fellow non-profit friends.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Revisiting LinkedIn’s Board Member Connect service

linkedin5When I engage non-profit organizations in board development related issues, it can be like simultaneously operating in two parallel and polar opposite universes. One universe exists where everyone is talking about how things are “supposed to be” done. This is described in the agency’s written board development plan. In the other universe, there are board members and staff sitting around a table talking about “some guy” they know without any discussion about board composition gap assessment, prospect lists, prospect evaluation or anything that sounds like process.

Growing the capacity of your non-profit board is a complicated formula that includes you doing the following:

  • Understanding the holes you need to fill.
  • Successfully identifying prospects who fill those gaps.
  • Thoughtfully evaluating and factoring in a prospect’s skill sets/talents and experiences so a smart determination can be made about moving forward with recruitment.
  • Developing and using a recruitment process that sets expectations and helps a potential prospect see what they are potentially say ‘YES‘ to doing before making that commitment.
  • Employing a thorough new board member orientation program and ongoing boardroom training calendar.
  • Developing and using tools (e.g. performance plans, dashboards, scorecards, etc) to show board members where they’re at and what they still need to do.
  • Engaging in year-end evaluation discussions focused on recognition and deeper engagement.

Your board governance and board development program will be “top shelf” if you do ALL of these things. Just having it in writing doesn’t count. You need to practice what you preach.

Not doing even one or two of these things is akin to skipping ingredients in a recipe. Following this analogy through to its logical conclusion, I ask you to imagine what a bread recipe looks like if you forget to add the yeast or the flour.

I often hear board development committee volunteers and staff openly complain about how hard it is to:

  • identify good prospects
  • ascertain skill sets and experiences
  • complete prospect evaluation exercises in a satisfying manner

linkedin4With this in mind, I am reminded of an old “Mondays with Marissa” post from a year ago titled “How Nonprofits Can Maximize LinkedIn to Grow Their Community“. In that post, Marissa talked briefly about LinkedIn’s new Board Member Connect connect service. This was a new service launched in 2012, and it was just getting off the ground.

In the last few days, I was poked by LinkedIn about this fee-based service for non-profit organizations. They’re organizing another informational webinar on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm (Central Time). Click here to learn more and register.

In the meantime, I thought I would take a look around the blogosphere to see what others were saying about LinkedIn’s Board Member Connect service. The following are just a few of the more interesting articles I decided to share with DonorDreams blog readers who might be interested in learning more:

What I found most interesting is that I didn’t come across any web reviews from non-profit leaders who’ve used LinkedIn’s Board Member Connect service. It makes me wonder if . . . a) no one is really using this service or b) everyone is so happy that there isn’t even one random web review complaint?

I suppose the only way for your agency to find out is to attend the webinar and ask around.

Have you used LinkedIn’s Board Member Connect service? What was your experience? If not, how else is your board development committee identifying good prospects for your board? Please scroll down and share your thought, ideas and practices in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Mmmmm … strategy for breakfast again?

breakfast5Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Making Breakfast,” John talks about how “culture eats strategy for breakfast“. He is referencing the importance of your organizational culture in everything you do. Of course, John says it in a way that only an organizational development professional can:

The strategy required specific organizational knowledge, competencies, and behaviors to effectively execute and deliver the results as envisioned. And the organization didn’t have those. So with every presentation of the strategy, I was conflicted.  Despite being consistently motivated by the possibility, I was increasingly concerned about the capability.”

In 2006, I made what I’ve now come to see as a brave decision when I left the front line and took a job as an internal consultant working for a national non-profit organization. For five years, I woke up every morning (usually in a hotel room somewhere on the road) and learned over and over again that culture eats strategy for breakfast.

To broadly and simply define my job . . . I was “Strategy Man”. My employer armed me with a 110 page manual focused on how to plan, organize, develop, implement and evaluate an annual campaign pledge drive. In addition to that manual, I was provided tons of tools, templates and samples that filled my consultants toolbox.

Some of you might be thinking “Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.” But you would be way off target. Why? Because culture eats strategy for breakfast!

So, picture this . . .

I walk into an organization’s boardroom and sit down with a group of agency staff and volunteer board members. I pull out my PowerPoint presentation and lots of other shiny objects. Nothing up my sleeve … right? This fundraising thing is easy. Making an in-person, face-to-face fundraising solicitation is as easy as following these simple 12-steps.

When I was done selling the sizzle (e.g. teaching fundraising strategies), I was often met with resistance, bombarded with reasons why it wouldn’t work and told why they wouldn’t do it that way (e.g. organizational culture).

breakfast1Do you see it? Culture eats strategy!

If your non-profit organization has hired staff who don’t possess fundraising skill sets and don’t have a track record of success with resource development, then sitting through a meeting listening to “strategy” can be arduous and sometimes downright frightening. The typical response is “resistance,” which is what John means when he says culture eats strategy for breakfast.

The same explanation holds true for your organization’s board of directors.

If you are just recruiting warm bodies to fill chairs around your boardroom table without being intentional, then you probably have a boardroom of people who say things like: “Ask me to do anything, but please don’t ask me to fundraise.”  (If I had a nickle for every time I heard that expression, I’d be retired and living on a tropical island sipping cool drinks in the shade.)

“If you want strategies to work, then you need to have the right people sitting around the table!”

Hire the right people. Recruit the right volunteers. Be intentional.

Last week, I was told by a board volunteer that he didn’t appreciate all of this talk about developing and following a board development process to increase the size of his board of directors. He kept arguing that we should throw process out the window and ask every existing board volunteer to ask a friend of theirs to join the board. Doing so would double the size of the board much quicker than how I was suggesting they do it.

breakfast2Hmmmm … looking back at that meeting, I think he was cooking up a hearty breakfast for me.

Some of you are probably wondering if your hiring and recruitment practices are intentional. If you answer ‘YES’ to many of the following questions, then you are probably being intentional:

  • Do you have a board development committee focused on growing the board?
  • Do you use tools that set expectations for prospective new board members (e.g. written volunteer position descriptions and commitment pledges)? Do you share these tools with prospects before asking them to join your board?
  • Do you build prospect lists with the thought of filling gaps and acquiring volunteers with specific skill sets and experiences?
  • Are you doing some informal background checking (e.g. asking friends and acquaintances about their current commitments, passions, past experiences, etc) before prioritizing who you plan on approaching first?
  • Are you able to rattle off a list of characteristics and traits of a successful board volunteer? How about a successful fundraising volunteer?

If you want to succeed at whatever your organization is looking at doing, then first ask yourself if your agency “possesses the organizational knowledge, competencies, and behaviors to effectively execute and deliver the results as envisioned“. If not, then you need to work on organizational culture first before introducing strategies into the discussion.

How do you change organizational culture? Be intentional!

If you choose to plow forward with strategy with a blind eye turned towards culture, then you better be hungry for a large heaping breakfast plate.  ;-)

Have you ever had to change the people (e.g. staff, board, etc) who were sitting around your table? If so, how did you do it? What lessons did you learn? Do you have a very intentional board development process? Scroll down and use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Non-Profit Governance: The Work of the Board, part 1

Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on 

Governance: The Work of the Board, part 1

Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive

By Dani Robbins

board of directors3

As mentioned in Board Basics and reposted on this very siteBoards are made up of appointed community leaders who are collectively responsible for governing an organization.” That includes:

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

As you know, one of my goals is to rectify the common practice in the field of people telling non-profit executives and boards how things should be without any instruction as to what that actually means or how to accomplish it.

Since I wrote a recent post on Strategic Planning, I’m going to circle back to that one and start with Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director.

What that means is:

It is the Board’s role to hire the Executive Director, also called CEO. Prior to hiring, interviewing or even posting the job, it is imperative the Board discus what they want and need in an Executive Director. This conversation cannot be farmed out to a committee primarily consisting of non board members, or to a consultant or hiring firm. That will only get you what they want and think you need – not what you want and actually need.

What skill sets and experience do you need in a leader?

Growing, turning around or maintaining an organization require very different skill sets. Which trait do you want your new leader to have? Does your leader need to be a subject matter expert? Does she need to be local? Does he need to be a fund raiser, an operations person or both?

I recommend a search, REGARDLESS OF . . .

  • if there is a good internal person,
  • if someone on the board wants the job, or
  • if there is an obvious heir apparent.

Do a search, let everyone apply and see who best matches your needs. For more information on conducting a search, please click here.

exec searchOnce your hire an Executive Director, s/he needs to be supported. Supporting an Executive Director is where the rubber meets the road.

I once had a colleague tell her board to “Support her or fire her, but to choose.”  While I was shocked, I was also in agreement. The job of the Executive Director is very difficult and energy spent on worrying is not spent on moving the organization forward. (To the Executive Director’s out there: Worrying about keeping your job precludes you from doing your job. You have to do what you believe is best, based on your experience, information and training, within the boundaries of your role and the law. We all know that any day could be the day you quit or get fired. That can’t stop you from leading.)

Communication is key: the Board needs to know (and approve of) what the Executive Director is doing and the Executive Director needs to know (and be willing to do) what the Board wants.

It is the Board Chair’s job to be the direct supervisor of the Executive Director and the entire Board’s job is to support him/her, set goals and hold her accountable to those goals. This means the Board has to let the Executive Director fulfill the bounds of his/her role. There should also be a strategic plan that is being implemented, board approved policies that are being followed and an annual evaluation process for the Executive Director (and the rest of the staff).

The vast majority of Executive Directors rarely get evaluated, and when they do it’s often because they asked for an evaluation. (To the Board Presidents out there: Executive Directors, just like Board members and most other people, when left to their own devices will do that they think is right. What they think is right will not necessarily be aligned with what the Board wants, especially if what the Board wants has not been discussed or communicated. It also may not be aligned with anything anyone else is doing. See the Strategic Plan link above to create alignment.)

Executive Directors should be given expectations and goals (just like all other staff) and should be evaluated against those expectations and goals every year. There should be a staff (including executive) compensation plan that has a range for salaries for each position and reflect comparable positions in your community; raises should be given within the confines of that plan, or the plan should be revised. (More on that in the Setting Policies blog to come in the next few days.)

Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director has to happen – in full- for your executive to be an effective leader, for your board to fulfill its responsibilities and for your organization to fulfill its mission.

When an Executive Director is hired right, supported appropriately and evaluated effectively there’s no end to the impact it can make on an organization and a community.

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

Every non-profit fundraising event needs clowns

Clown_chili_peppersI’ve seen it happen way too often. A fundraising professional or the executive director says to a group of people — using at a board meeting — something like this: “We need volunteers to help with our special event fundraiser. Who can help?” At first, there is an awkward silence and no hands go up. Then there are a few reluctant hands. Whenever I see this happen, I’m always left wondering if those were the right people for the job and how many of those people are clowns?

Before starting this post, let me just say that my point of view on this issue is obvious . . . stop using group recruiting techniques to recruit people for tasks that require specific skill sets. You are only setting yourself up for lots of grief and possibly failure.

With this being said, the following is a traditional list of characteristics for special event volunteers:

  • Familiar with and passionate about your mission, vision and programs
  • Possess time and willing to use that time to plan and execute the event
  • Have large networks (hopefully ones that don’t overlap too much with the other volunteers on the committee)
  • Willing to ask others for money (e.g. selling sponsorships and tickets)
  • Works well with others (e.g. good listen, not abrasive, demonstrates teamwork)
  • Has a track record of following through on what they commit to doing
  • Well organized

I’ve rolled with this short list for years and it hasn’t failed me.

I use the aforementioned list to identify and target prospective volunteers. I also use the list to develop written volunteer job descriptions. I’ve shares it with volunteers on the recruitment call because I commonly get asked “Why are you asking me to do this?” and I simply tell them that they possess all of these characteristics.

However, I’ve had this nagging feeling for years that something is missing from this list, and I put my finger on it just the other day.

bleachersI was sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. I was there with my father and my partner. The quality of baseball on the field was terrible, there was a constant drizzle of rain falling from the sky, and the fans were obviously getting antsy. Suddenly, one of the fans got to his feet and yelled at the top of his lungs:

“Hey everybody!
Right field sucks!”

He started chanting over and over again “Right field sucks! Right field sucks!” until other fans joined in.

As this played out in front of me, my first thought was “Hey, sit down! Some of us are trying to watch some bad baseball here!” but then it dawned on me. It was a big AH-HA moment.

There are people like this is every crowd. They love attention. They need to be at the center of the action. In grade school, they were the class clown. As adults, they are just clowns.

I don’t mean this in a bad way. These people are outgoing, love being around other people (aka well-networked) and love a good party (regardless of whether it is a baseball game or your agency’s special event fundraiser).

So, on a go-forward basis I plan on amending my special event volunteer list of characteristics to include: “clown“.

bleachers2I’m sure some of you are probably skeptical and for good reason. I mean how crazy and distracting would it be to have a committee of people who all want to be the center of attention. Crazy . . . I’m sure! However, I can’t help but dream about the type of event those folks would build in the name of securing more recognition and attention all to benefit my agency.

I suspect that with a little guidance (and after all isn’t guidance your role as a non-profit professional) this strategy could pay off in a big way.

Regardless, anything will be better than asking people to put their hands up and volunteer.

What characteristics and skill sets do you look for when recruiting volunteers to help plan and implement your agency’s special event fundraisers? What has been your experience with recruiting clowns? Please scroll down and share your experiences in the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Don’t put Dorothy on your board of directors

On Monday, I shared with you a few observations from The Wizard of Oz and Oz: The Great and Powerful as I think it pertains to non-profit work. At the end of Monday’s post I promised to take you further down the Yellow Brick Road by revisiting a series of Oz-inspired posts from two years ago. Today’s post is about board composition and board development. Enjoy . . . here’s to your health!  ~Erik

Don’t put Dorothy on your board of directors

Originally published on October 27, 2011

dorothySeptember 15, 2008 . . . do you remember where you were and what you were doing? It was the day the world changed. It was what some people have called an “economic 9-11″. Regardless of how you characterize the day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the stock market started its crash, it is hard to argue the following: 1) the economic paradigm we all used to live in shifted and 2) nothing will ever be the same again.

This week I have used characters from “The Wizard of Oz” to talk about current challenges facing the non-profit sector. Today, we will spend a moment talking about Dorothy.

Dorothy is an iconic character who has been described as a “level-headed, plucky, resourceful, determined, all-American, populist”.  However, I’ve always seen her as a traditional “conservative”. Don’t believe me? Refresh your memory with this quick YouTube clip. Of course, I don’t mean this in any kind of political way, but more of the traditional meaning of “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation”.

You cannot afford to have Dorothy on your board of directors during these tough and turbulent economic times!

Mentally take a look around your board room and see if you can identify how many Dorothy-like volunteers occupy chairs. They are kind folks (dare I say friends) who look and sound like the following:

  • They are frightened by the economic “tornado” whirling throughout the world. They talk about economic news constantly.
  • They wish for yesteryear and reminisce about times when your non-profit was facing a different set of circumstances. They fixate on making things better . . . just like they “used to be”. They’re focused on making that formerly kick-butt special event awesome again. They’re insistent that you can hold onto all of your government grants if you just tried a little harder. After all, there is no place like home.
  • They are visibly closed to new and innovative ideas that have not been tried. They believe ePhilanthropy is a passing fad. They won’t entertain ideas around merger, acquisition, or strategic alliances that share back office functions. After all, that is not the Kansas they so fondly remember.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting a “witch hunt” to root out these folks and fire them. Dorothy serves an important role on your board. She is that cautious voice that keeps you from getting into trouble. She will stop you from pulling the plug on your annual campaign and direct mail appeals and “going all in” on ePhilanthropy efforts. Valuable? YES! However, what happens when you have too many Dorothy-like board members? Or what if you have those well-intentioned people serving in the wrong roles (e.g. board president, annual campaign chair, strategic planning committee, etc)?

My best two pieces of advice for non-profit staff and board volunteers this morning are:

  1. Be especially strategic and thoughtful about where you ask these people to serve in your organization. This means that you need to: a) identify who these folks are and b) have a clear understanding of which volunteer opportunities are acceptable for conservative personalities.
  2. Focus your board development efforts over the next year on recruiting people in your community who don’t resemble Dorothy to serve on your board. This is not the time to pine for Kansas! This means your board development committee needs to double down on the “prospect identification” and “prospect evaluation” elements of the board recruitment process. Gone are the days when everyone sits around a table and tosses out names of good, kind and resourceful people. BE STRATEGIC!

I suggest that the type of people your board development committee should look for exhibit some of the following characteristics:

  • They don’t appear to be “personally” economically impacted by the Great Recession
  • Their business or line of work seems to be doing fine
  • They are naturally positive and have a decent outlook on the future
  • They seem to be open to new ideas (as evidenced in their personal and professional lives)
  • They are “outside-of-the-box thinkers (as evidenced in their personal and professional lives)

Remember, if you want to keep the flying monkeys away from your non-profit agency, STAY AWAY FROM DOROTHY.

OK — if you aren’t buying into my cheesy “Wizard of Oz” analogy, then please go to the library and borrow the book “Who Moved My Cheese“. You’ll thank me later.

How has your agency adapted to the new realities? Have you changed your resource development model or are you still trying to do things the old way? Do you see your board development efforts changing or focusing on different types of prospects? Please use the comment box below and weigh-in. Please remember that we can all learn from each other. In fact, it is probably the most effective way many of us learn.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847|

Board Development Done ….. Less Effectively

Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on 

process1Last month I wrote on post entitled Board Development Done Right. Let’s talk today about the other side of board development: what it looks like when it’s done less effectively.

In the absence of a board development plan that is being followed, most organizations do some combination of the following:

  • A board member or member of the senior staff meets someone in the community who they think might be good for the board.
  • They pass the name on to the Board Chair or the CEO who later meets with the prospect and may or may not invite them to join the board.
  • If they do, and the person says yes, they bring the name up at the next board meeting, and that person is voted upon and becomes a board member.
  • Usually, but not always, the new board member is brought on board without an orientation as to what the expectations and requirements are of board leadership.

It’s a process. It’s not great, but it is the process that is  fairly consistently followed by many organizations.

Will that process build a great board? Probably not, but it works — to a degree — and it’s much better than the alternative.

process3The alternative is this with the same beginning:

  • a board member or senior staff meets someone in the community who they think might be good for the board and asks them to join the board.
  • They say yes.
  • That person shows up at the next board meeting and is voted upon while in the room and voila! They are a board member.

Lest you think I am exaggerating . . . I attended a luncheon not too long ago where I was seated next to a nonprofit CEO. He asked what I did for a living, and I shared that I was a non-profit management consultant, who primarily works with organizations on board governance, executive couching, system development and planning. He immediately asked me to join his board.

As I’ve written before, strong boards beget strong organizations. It works the other way too. Less effective boards beget less effective organizations. Those boards hire less talented CEOs (or the wrong CEOs), for whom they don’t set goals and whom they don’t evaluate. They do not have a written strategic plan or a board development plan (or many other plans for that matter). There is no orientation process, no education and no board evaluation.

transparencyHere’s the rub . . . Board strength isn’t just an internal issue that is invisible to the community. It is visible. Here’s what it looks like:

  • The organization has a revolving door of CEOs.
  • The CEO has a revolving door of senior staff.
  • The CEO has a very strong personality and does the work of the board, which the board allows either because: 1) they don’t know they shouldn’t, OR 2) they are afraid that if they challenge the CEO s/he will leave, and they don’t have the time, the inclination, the ability, or a plan to deal with.
  • The Board Chair has a very strong personality (and may also be a big donor) and other board members are afraid to alienate him/her.
  • There are quorum issues.
  • Board members tend to stay only one term.

Just because it’s like this today, don’t mean it has to stay like this.

Organizational transformation is possible and even probable with the right plan and the emotional fortitude to implement that plan. Like any other challenge in life, if you don’t like the path you’re on, pick a new path! Get your board together (or at least your executive or nominating committee) and come up with a plan.

Start by answering these questions:

  • Who do you have around the table?
  • Does everyone look the same?
  • Is everyone, in fact, the same?
  • Are there gaps in skill set, faith, race, capacity, interest, thought, ability, orientation, age, and gender?
  • Are there leaders in your community who can fill those gaps?
  • Who can get in front of those people, introduce and engage them in your organization?
  • How will you decide when and to whom to offer board seats?
  • When will you vote on new members?
  • What will you include in your orientation?
  • What type of evaluation will the board conduct of itself and how often?
  • What type of education does the board need and want?

Board development is the intentional process by which the board is perpetuated, evaluated, and educated. Let’s get to it!

What’s been your experience? How have you built a board? As always, I welcome your experience and insight.
dani sig


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,829 other followers

%d bloggers like this: