Blog Archives

Finding the right non-profit board prospects might be harder than you think

strategic thinking2Sometimes I hear something that hits me just right, and it takes days to get it out of my head. This happened on Tuesday during the Fox West Philanthropic Network’s Philanthropy Day luncheon. The keynote speaker, Dani Robbins, was talking about the different modes of board governance and the importance of facilitating more strategic and generative discussions in the boardroom. Doing so will result in a more engaged board.

Easy as that! Right?

Well, that little voice inside my head started screaming at me. It was saying, “Whoaaaaa! Can strategic and generative discussions be done with any old board members? Or does it take a certain type of board volunteer?

So, I raised my hand and interrupted Dani’s keynote address. (Sorry, Dani!)

I was half expecting her to say that everyone is capable of engaging in these higher order discussions. I was also expecting her to put the responsibility back on the person(s) who facilitate those boardroom discussions to get the most out of the diversity of people sitting around the table.

However, I got an unexpected answer.

strategic thinking3Dani suggested that board volunteers who are “strategic thinkers” will have an easier time making the transition from traditional fiduciary modes of governance to more strategic and generative modes.

I suspect this means for many non-profit organizations, who want to make this adjustment to governance, that some thought needs to be put into adding more strategic thinkers to their board recruitment prospects lists.

Once I arrived at this conclusion, I got a mental picture of a committee meeting with board governance volunteers going through their prospect identification and evaluation exercises focused on finding strategic thinkers. As this mental picture became clearer, lots of questions flooded into my head including:

  • What does a strategic thinker look and sound like?
  • Where do strategic thinkers live, work and play?
  • How easy will it be for board governance committees to do this work, especially when most committees (in my experience) shortcut the cultivation and evaluation process and go straight from identification to recruitment?

As I normally do when issues like this start bothering me, I open up my internet browser and go to Google.  ;-)

I quickly found myself reading a post on CEB Blogs titled “5 Characteristics of Strategic Thinkers“. Here are those characteristics:

  1. Open yourself to perspectives from multiple sources
  2. Incorporate both logic and emotion into your thinking
  3. Seek options beyond today’s reality
  4. Question both the familiar and the to-be-determined
  5. Accept open issues

strategic thinking1If you’re scratching your head while reading this list and asking “what does THAT mean,” then click the link and read the CEB Blog post. It really is quite good. If you want to learn more, then I suggest you start Googling around.  ;-)  You also might want to click here and start with this interesting Wikipedia page on strategic thinking.

Let me bottom line what I’m thinking for you this morning.

  • This isn’t as simple as changing some of the criteria in your gap assessment tool
  • These characteristics are more subtle than questions of age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, fundraising experience, etc
  • Only people who know or work closely with board prospects know whether or not they are strategic thinkers, which puts a spotlight on who is serving on your board governance committee
  • Identifying strategic thinkers for your board recruitment process will require more time spent cultivating and evaluating prospects and less jumping straight from identification to recruitment

What is standing in your agency’s way of transforming its boardroom discussions from fiduciary to more strategic and generative modes of governance? What are you doing to over come those obstacles? Is your board governance committee approaching its job differently when it considers this question? If so, how?

Please use the comment box below to share your thought and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Crazy non-profit board meetings and some advice for board volunteers

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 (or Thursday as is the case this 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 

Board Meetings Gone Wrong

By Dani Robbins

regretsBoards meetings can quickly go from productive to destructive in any number of ways. The following are just a few lessons I’ve learned throughout the years and thought board volunteers might benefit from reading:

The morning after is too late

I cannot tell you the number of times in my career that a Board member has called me the morning after a board meeting appalled by something the Board voted to approve the night before, at a meeting they themselves attended. I can absolutely tell you the number of times those very same Board members have voiced their objections in the room: zero!

The next morning is too late. If you do not like the motion that is on the table, it is not only your right to object out loud and on the record, it’s your obligation.

Sometimes individual Board members come up with wacky (read: dangerous) ideas. When those ideas become motions that get seconded is when they go from wacky to possible. Motions that have no second die, and so do the ideas that spawned them.

Motions that are seconded prompt the chair to call for a discussion. If you are uncomfortable with the motion that is on the table, I implore you to speak. Silence is acquiesce. It is usually too late (and much harder) to address something after a vote has been concluded.

hell3When you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there

No written agenda — or an agenda that isn’t followed — practically guarantees a long, meandering meeting that will only serve to frustrate those in the room, but won’t accomplish much beyond that. It’s also likely that such a meeting will not produce formal votes or minutes that capture what the Board has committed to accomplishing.

No strategic plan works the same way. In the absence of a plan, you will have a lot of people working on a lot of things that may or may not align because the Board has not articulated and voted upon a formal direction.

If everyone’s in charge, no one’s in charge

Boards elect Chairs to be in charge (of the Board). It’s awkward and feels weird the first time you chair a meeting, but the weirdness will pass when you begin to lead. However, not leading guarantees the weirdness moves in and sets up shop.

It’s the forth Tuesday at 4; let’s meet!

Don’t have a Board meeting if you have nothing to talk about. If there are no committee reports and no business for the Board to address, cancel the meeting.

At the end of the day, there’s no accounting for crazy

The easiest way to avoid crazy in the board room is to not let crazy on the board. A Board Development plan and a formal process to elect board members will weed out inappropriate board prospects, before they become inappropriate board members.

meeting1Time of Death: 2 hours after we started talking about this

Discussion that seems to be spiraling can be stopped by two of my favorite phrases:

  1. Let’s call the question” which in Board speak means enough talking, let’s vote.
  2. Let’s send this back to committee.” This phrase, when used by the chair, is a declarative statement that the board meeting has devolved into a committee meeting. When used by anyone other than the chair, it is a prompt to the chair that the discussion has gone on too long. In either case, there should be a vote, reflected in minutes, that the motion was be tabled pending the committee’s review and consideration of the issues raised.

What’s the Executive Director’s role?

Good Execs do their homework before the meeting and usually know how people are going to vote before the meeting begins……which doesn’t ensure they will do so.

If a meeting goes off track, Execs can:

  • stall by whispering the potential negative impact to the Chair and hoping they agree;
  • offer to get more information and bring it back to the board at a future meeting; or
  • recommend the motion be sent back to committee prior to being voted upon.

If you have to, board volunteers can object out loud and on the record but be aware that doing so will spend significant political capital. It also may not help, which does not mean you should not do it.

As mentioned in a post titled “Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive,”

“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.”

What’s been your experience? Have you seen Board meetings go off track? What has gotten them back on track? As always, I welcome your insight and experience.
dani sig

A brush with history — Nate “Bobo” Smalls — and a non-profit epiphany

bobo1Every once in a while this job allows me to do something fun and amazing. Last week was one of those times. During an organizational assessment project, I had a brush with history when one of my interviewees turned out to be Nate “Bobo” Smalls. Who is this guy? Quite simply, Bobo is one of the last remaining baseball stars from the Negro Baseball League, which is a piece of history that the world tries very hard not to remember or honor. I walked away from my interview with Bobo with goosebumps on my arm.

Of course, I am obligated by a confidentiality agreement with my client. So, I cannot share with the DonorDreams blog audience things like who my client is and what Bobo said in that interview about their organization. However, there are a few things in the public domain about Bobo that are fair game.

I have whittled those few things down into bite size nuggets of wisdom in the next few sections.

Do you know what is wrong with our communities today?

Throughout my time with Bobo, he kept coming back to a central theme and his explanation of what is wrong with the world today.

Apparently, back in the day, our communities were blessed with what Bobo described as mentors. These were older men and women who were wise, and they took it upon themselves to share their wisdom with the world regardless of whether or not they knew you.

bobo2Bobo recalled every neighborhood having at least one mentor.

They would sit on their porch, and they were accessible to anyone who sought their counsel. When they circulated throughout the community, they would stop young people who they thought were creating mischief or on the wrong path in life and talk with them about the error of their ways.

Our world is a different place today. It operates at a different speed. We build fences around our houses, and many of us mind our own business. We work hard at keeping our nose out of other people’s business.

When I allow my mind to wander beyond Bobo neighborhood construct, I am hard pressed to identify many business professionals who I see mentoring young up-and-comers.

Bobo is right . . . there aren’t many true mentors left.

Talking the talk. Walking the walk.

It would be easy for Bobo to retire to a rocking chair and tell stories. He is one of the last Negro League barnstorming players. He earned his golden years.

Instead of fading away into the pages of history and lamenting the loss of mentors in our society, Bobo goes to work every day in his neighborhood park. With the support of his local municipality and his neighbors, he does outreach work with kids who hang out on the streets. Many of these kids are the same ones joining gangs. He organizes basketball leagues and sports tournaments, and he does a lot of talking and mentoring.

If my grandmother was right and “idle hands are the workshop of the devil,” then Bobo is an angel who is one of those rare people who does more than just complain about what is wrong with the world. He does something about it.

bobo3The epiphany

When you look at Bobo Smalls’ career and listen to him wax poetic about his neighborhood and community, it is hard not to walk away without having learned a few lessons. The following are just a few non-profit epiphanies I took away from my time with Bobo:

  • Your non-profit organization most likely functions in the capacity of those individuals that Bobo described as mentors. Do you take that responsibility seriously? If so, how? By going back in time and talking to a treasure like Bobo, what epiphanies might you experience that could influence your agency’s programming?
  • You have the personal capacity to mentor a young professional in your place of work. If youth is more your passion, then you also have the ability to get involved in a mentoring-focused non-profit organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. What is stopping you? Once you identify those barriers, what will you do about it?
  • Many non-profit organizations are really good at assessment (e.g. talking the talk), but fewer are good at implementing change (e.g. walking the walk). For example, I hear agencies complain a lot about the state of government funding today, but they aren’t aggressively changing their fundraising plan. What is your agency doing to drive change? What approaches, tactics and tools do you use? How do you keep yourself from turning into one of those people who complains about everything but does nothing about it?
  • Collaboration is key to success, and Bobo is a living testament to this. It is true that Bobo took to the streets on his own accord and started the hard work of outreach and programming. However, he quickly engaged others like the city government in a conversation focused on how they could help and sustain his efforts. Who is your agency collaborating with to implement your mission and vision? Is it a real collaboration or is it just a partnership in name only to impress funders?
  • Persistence is also the key to success. Bobo played for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1965 to 1986. There is a great story about how he invited himself to the Kansas City Royals spring training camp as a “walk-on” player even though the team had a policy of not accepting walk-ons. Does your agency practice tenacity? If so, how?

I ask lots of questions in the aforementioned bullet points. Please use the comment box below to weigh-in with your thoughts and experiences.

The man. The legend.

There isn’t much information out there about guys like Bobo Smalls. Click here to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum website if you want to learn about others like Bobo.

If you want to view a YouTube clip of Bobo talking about his days as a Negro League player, I’ve included this link for your enjoyment:

Every community possesses people like Bobo. They are a treasure. Can your organization benefit from engaging those people? I suspect you can. When you figure it out, please circle back to this post and let us know what happened.

Here’s to your health!

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

Formula for a successful non-profit board volunteer

equationIt seems like I’ve been on the road a lot this month, and this allows me to interact with all sorts of talented and amazing non-profit professionals. In fact, just last night I was at dinner with another non-profit consultant who shared with me his “formula” for a successful board volunteer.

Just so you don’t think that I am stealing, I told this person that I planned to share his formula with the world this morning via the DonorDreams blog. Needless to say, I have his blessing.   ;-)

Here is his secret recipe that he shares in his board development and governance trainings with board volunteers on how to be good at their job:

12 + (3+1) + 3 + 1 + 1 + 70% + 100%

Let me decipher this formula for you:

  • Make 12 thank you (stewardship) calls per year
  • Take three donors on a tour of your facility and also invite a prospective new donor on a tour
  • Make three in-person solicitation calls as part of your agency’s fundraising program (preferably the annual campaign pledge drive, but it can be a major gift solicitation or special event sponsorship call)
  • Spend one hour per year volunteering on the front line in a program (so that you can be credible when talking to others about your agency)
  • Participate in one standing committee or task force of the board
  • Attend at least 70% of board meetings
  • Be an advocate of 100% of the board making a personal financial contribution to the agency

There you go . . . pretty simple. Of course, this is one person’s opinion about what it takes to be a good board volunteer.

In your opinion, is there anything missing? Would you modify this equation? If so, then how would you do it? Do you have an easily digestible equation like this that you like to share with new board prospects? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Do you know what it takes to build a GREAT non-profit board of directors?

You may remember that around the turn of the century there was a rash of failures when it came to the idea of “board governance“. These failures emanated from the for-profit sector — WorldComm, Enron, and Tyco — but it got people asking an important question: “Does a board governance model still work in the 21st Century?” This question logically lead to the next question, which was “What does it take to build a more effective board of directors?

I stumbled upon an old article 2002 article from Jeffrey Sonnenfeld in the Harvard Business Review titled “What Makes Great Boards Great“. OMG! If you haven’t read this article, it is a MUST READ! While I’m going to hit a few of the highlights in today’s blog post, please trust me when I say this is worth the click.


The usual suspects

How many times have you sat around a board development/governance committee table and talked about how to make your board work better?

I’ve been there more times than I care to admit, and it is almost as if Sonnenfeld was a fly on the wall in all of those meetings. In the first few pages of his article, he rattles off the list of things we’ve all talked about when discussing this issue.

  • Improving board attendance
  • Improving the committee system
  • Diversifying our board (esp. recruiting younger board members)
  • Focusing on board size and trying to right-size our board

We focus so much on structural best practices, and this never seems to get us any closer to a more functional board.

human elementThe human element

There is a pop-up quote in Sonnenfeld’s article that captures his thoughts on this subject perfectly:

“What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems.”

Here are just a few suggestions he offers to those of you trying to build great boards:

  • Establish and use annual evaluation tools for both the organization and individual
  • Establish and use accountability tools
  • Encourage board members to constantly re-examine their roles
  • Foster a culture of open dissent
  • Create an organizational culture built on trust and candor

Each of these bullet points could be a blog post by itself. Luckily, Sonnenfeld does a nice job of elaborating on all of this in his article, which is why you really need to go read his article.

Rather than drill deeper, I’m going to throw it open to you and the other readers this morning. What are you doing to build a GREAT board? What do your evaluation and accountability tools look like? What are you doing to change organizational culture and foster respect, openness, trust, etc? What is working and what isn’t working at your agency? Please share your thoughts and experiences using the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Additionally, I strongly urge you to click-through and read the Sonnenfeld article in the Harvard Business Review. Sure, some of the for-profit stuff won’t apply to your non-profit agency, but much of it will. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s to your health!

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

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


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