Category Archives: Board governance
Last week in a post titled “You need to dance with the person who brought you,” I wrote about the difference between traits, characteristics, skills and experiences and specifically what combination of these go into making effective non-profit board leaders. Today, I I’m looking at the same thing, but I want to turn this lens on the non-profit executive director position.
To recap . . .
The differences between traits, characteristics, skills and experiences (in my opinion) are:
- A trait is something someone inherits or is born with
- A characteristic (e.g. quality) is something that describes someone
- A skill is something that someone has learned
- An experience is something someone has experienced
With regards to traits and innate abilities, I started writing about this topic a few year ago in a post titled “Non-profit executive directors take the heat every day.” I shared with readers the following talents that Joe Lehr once shared in with non-profit professionals in an article he wrote. The following is a list of those talents:
- Belief — passion, fire, and strength of conviction all stemming from organizational mission, vision and purpose.
- Vision — an ability to see the organization’s future and getting others to see and believe in it, too.
- Focus & clarity — sorting through a lot of information, knowing what is most important, and getting others to see clearly see it.
- Maximizer — a burning desire for greatness and an ability to act as a catalyst for all other stakeholders to reach for greatness (via accountability, transparency, urgency, etc).
- Empathy — self-awareness, emotional intelligence, along with the intuition and ability to sense what others are feeling and thinking and use that to effectively communicate with others.
I generally agree with Joe and won’t spend more time and space discussing traits, and . . .
If you are a believer in the science of personality testing, there is much written on what inherent personality traits a great non-profit executive director should possess.
From a Myers-Briggs perspective, Paul Sohn speculated in his post titled “The Best Jobs For All 16 Myers-Briggs Personality Types In One Infographic” that ENFJ’s and ENTJ’s might be well-positioned for success.
In a study published by Dewey & Kaye titled “Nonprofit Leadership Development: A model for identifying and growing leaders within the nonprofit sector,” they found many non-profit leaders are rated highly as “High D’s.” This personality aspect is described as:
“Direct and Decisive. D’s are strong-willed, strong-minded people who like accepting challenges, taking action, and getting immediate results. People with a high D component like to take charge and are typically found in positions or power and authority.”
While the jury is out and the science isn’t precise (in my humble opinion), the fact is that boards can really stumble when hiring an executive director if they don’t try to wrap their collective heads around what a successful candidate innately needs to bring to the table.
As it relates to characteristics, I’ve seen successful executive directors features/qualities:
- well-networked with a large circle of influence
- organized and focused
- an understanding of the complexities associated with organizational development
- hard working and strong work ethic
- unfazed by long work hours
- servant leader at heart and joyful warrior
- high integrity
- role model who is a mentor to others
- self-starter who works well in fuzzy supervisory environments
- connection and personal story that connects them to the organization’s mission
Skills are learned as a result of life experiences, and the good execs seem to have honed the following skill sets:
- resource development/fundraising
- board development and supportive of board governance
- great communicator
- collaboration and partnership development
- financial management
- human resources
- volunteer management and engagement
From an experience perspective, non-profit executive directors who thrive seem to have:
- worked at various levels of a non-profit (e.g. front line operations, fundraising and management)
- had success at all levels of resource development and not just one aspect (e.g. individual giving, corporate philanthropy, grant writing, government funding, etc)
- successfully provided guidance and leadership to teams of people
- excelled in environments where they had limited real authority and succeeded because of their ability to influence outcomes
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with these categories and lists, the reality is that non-profit boards have a handful of roles/responsibilities they cannot shirk. One of those responsibilities is hiring and managing the organization’s executive director. Failure to take this seriously is a recipe for disaster.
How does your organization integrate the aforementioned traits, characteristics, skills and experiences into its executive director search process? What specific tools have you used that you found helpful? Are their any specific traits, characteristics, skills and experiences that I missed that you would add to the list?
Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
This certainly seems to be the topic of the month for non-profit people running in my circles. I’m not sure why this is the flavor of the month, but I’ve been asked this question so many times recently I took is as a sign from the universe (or the fundraising gods) that I should blog about it.
Why do board members quit on you?
Oh, well let me count the reasons . . .
- They feel lost when it comes to asking for charitable contributions (aka lack of training)
- They feel uneasy about asking friends for money (aka they are asking inappropriately due to a lack of training which results in any number of FEARS and the feeling that they’re begging)
- They feel unsupported by staff (aka staff aren’t going out with them to help and model best practices)
- They sense there is a lack of organization behind their efforts (aka meetings are poorly attended or poorly organized, acknowledgement letters are sent late or sporadically, etc)
- Prospective donors are assigned to volunteers by staff without input from volunteers (aka they aren’t asking people with whom they are comfortable soliciting)
- They are busy people and there aren’t accountability tools being used by staff to keep everyone focused (e.g. report meetings, dashboards, scorecards, campaign reports, peer-to-peer phone calls)
- Fundraising efforts lack urgency (aka deadlines always seem to be extended, goals seem to shift/change, etc)
- They weren’t recruited appropriately and didn’t know what they were saying ‘YES’ to when joining the board (aka your board recruitment process lacks “expectation tools” like volunteer job descriptions, commitment pledges, etc)
I could go on and on and on with this list, but that wouldn’t be productive. Suffice it to say, if any of the aforementioned reasons describe your organization, you need to address it. Quickly! Otherwise, no matter how many new board members you recruit to replace the ones who quit on you, the problem will continue to recur.
All of this begs the question, “What can and should be done about board volunteers who quit on their fundraising responsibilities?”
Step One: Have a heart-to-heart discussion
I have no idea why this is so scary for so many non-profit staff and board volunteers. It doesn’t have to be a confrontation. Here are a few talking points:
- Describe what you are observing (e.g. a reluctance to fundraise)
- Assure them that it happens in the case of many board volunteers
- Ask them what the trouble seems to be
- Listen – Listen – Listen (empathize where appropriate)
- Ask them how you can help
- If there is nothing you can do to help, then ask them how they’d like to move forward
Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too many times. Board members disengage and no one asks them if everything is OK and if they are in need of assistance.
It is troublesome when non-profit families start acting this way, which is why Step One is always to sit down and listen.
Step Two: Engage in cultivation & stewardship
If the reasons given by your board volunteer aren’t things beyond anyone’s control (e.g. family member illness, work-related challenges, etc) and they simply don’t feel comfortable with solicitation, then ask them to get heavily involved in cultivation (e.g. engaging new prospective supporters) and stewardship (e.g. showing existing donors gratitude and return on investment) activities. (Note: don’t simply let them focus on other non-fundraising activities like programming or marketing)
The following is a partial list of things you can ask of reluctant fundraising volunteers:
- Host a house party with people who don’t currently support your organization (e.g. party where staff briefly talk about the organization and the host follows up with participants to see if they are interested in learning more)
- Invite people who don’t currently give to your organization to tour your facilities and see the mission in action
- Invite people who aren’t donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee and simply chat about the organization (e.g. it is important for the board volunteer to share reasons why they are involved and passionate about the organization)
- Hand write letters to donors to express gratitude for their support
- Make phone calls to donors in the middle of the organization’s range of gifts chart to express gratitude, engage in a discussion about their reasons for support, and share a piece of organizational good news
- Invite larger major gifts donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee, share a copy of the most recent annual report, share any recent pieces of good news or programmatic results, and talk passionately about the future
I’m not suggesting you ask a reluctant fundraising volunteer to do one of two of these things. I am suggesting you immerse them in these activities. You might try asking them to complete five handwritten letters, five phone calls AND five in-person contacts every month for the next year.
In my experience, there is something curative when board members have substantive encounters with others that focus on community need, mission, vision, and impact.
I’ve seen a heavy dose of this approach help many volunteers get over their cold feet or malaise when it comes to fundraising.
Step Three: Finding a New Seat on the Bus
Sometimes we can’t fix the problem. Board members are people, too. Their parents get sick. Their marriages falter. They end up with a new boss who demands more from them.
When these things happen, the first order of business is empathy. This is what you’d do for a family member going through the same thing. Right? And board members are your non-profit family.
But whatever you do, you cannot make exceptions for individual board volunteers with regards to their fiduciary responsibilities. It is an all or nothing proposition.
I’ve seen it too often where one board member is given a pass (usually for good reason). It’s a slippery slope. Others board members start identifying reasons in their life why they can’t participate in fundraising. Worse yet, a schism materializes in the boardroom between “those who fundraise” and “those who don’t.” When this happens, resentment and ugliness aren’t far behind.
So, what does finding a new seat on the bus look like? It could be any number of things including (but not limited to):
- Taking a short sabbatical from the board
- Resigning from the board and moving into a new role (e.g. joining a committee, becoming a program volunteer, helping with small projects, remaining on as a donor, etc)
- Acting as an advisor (e.g. monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly coffee meetings with the CEO or development director)
- Becoming a community ambassador (e.g. speaking periodically at service clubs, etc)
We don’t banish or fire board members (unless of course it is a toxic/destructive situation). People who support our mission are valued and important. We keep them involved, but we do so in roles that are mutually beneficial and fulfilling.
How has your organization dealt with and addressed board members who quit fundraising (or maybe never really got started)? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Last week, British voters stunned the world in a number of different ways. First, they voted in a non-binding referendum to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which triggers a process to disentangle Great Britain from the European Union (EU). Second, global financial markets have reacted poorly to this news because it injected a large amount of uncertainty into all things financial (apparently there is now a projection by some economists that there is a 30% to 50% chance the United States will now enter into another recession because of this vote). Finally, and most importantly, many people were stunned by reporting in the days following the referendum that there appears to be a growing number of voters who felt misinformed and regretted their vote.
As I listened to last week’s news coverage, I couldn’t help but worry about what this all means for the American non-profit sector.
Of course, the risk of another recession obviously spells trouble for non-profit organizations who are still digging out from the 2008 economic crash. However, this isn’t really what concerns me the most.
The fact that voters felt misinformed and ignorant about what they were voting on is a chilling realization and one that should concern every non-profit professional.
If you stop and think about this phenomenon for a few minutes, it isn’t really surprising.
- People are busy
- Many people report feeling as if our world is getting faster and faster
- Information pours into our lives at breakneck speed (e.g. network television, radio, Google, Facebook, Twitter, cable television, data reports in the workplace, email-email-email, etc)
- There appears to be a blurring of the lines between opinions and facts in the media
- There is a media outlet (and internet link) validating every point of view . . . so if you believe it, then you can reinforce it thus hardening your opinion and becoming less likely to hear opposing viewpoints
Communications experts refer to this experience as “information overload.”
You may be asking yourself, “So what?”
Well, there are consequences . . .
- Decreased productivity
- Tuning out and unplugging
I’m sure some of you have heard the old marketing adage that it takes at least seven times of someone hearing/seeing an advertisement before it actually breaks through the noise and registers with them. This is a concept called effective frequency.
OK, so now you might be asking yourself, “What does any of this have to do with my non-profit organization?”
Let me attempt to answer this question with a few questions for you to consider:
- What are the consequences of your donors not hearing your post-solicitation stewardship messaging?
- What problems could result if your board members aren’t reading the reports and materials you send them prior to making decisions in the boardroom?
- What could happen if staff aren’t processing and reacting appropriately to outcomes data, properly reading/implementing program curricula, or understanding the deliverables written into grant agreements?
If your answers were:
- increased donor turnover
- fewer dollars raised
- bad decision-making
- poor programming
- decreased productivity and performance
. . . then you are likely on the same page with me.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is absolutely happening in your organization, but I am asking you to weigh the possibilities.
There are more theories and studies showing us the internet is rewiring our brains and changing: a) how we read and b) how we process information. (If you want to read more, click here … here . . . and here)
So, if you are still with me, you might be wondering what can be done to improve the likelihood that donors, board volunteers and staff are hearing (and understanding) what your organization needs them to know. While I am not a communications expert, here are a few thoughts:
- Use more pictures and graphics
- Tell more stories to convey your messages and contextualize your outcomes data
- Segment your donors and do a better job at targeting your messaging
- Use multiple communications channels (e.g. in-person, phone, mail, email, outdoor advertising, Facebook, Twitter, etc) and stop over reliance on email and mail
- Integrate infographics, dashboards and scorecards into your boardroom materials
- Redesign your meetings (board and staff meetings) to be more interactive / participatory
How does your organization communicate with its stakeholders? How do you know if your key messages are being properly received and understood? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Anyone watching television or engaged in community conversations in recent months knows that our communities are entering into another period of time punctuated by values. Some people are talking about life, liberty and happiness. Others of us are focused on equality versus freedom (which are two values that are somewhat mutually exclusive). Perhaps, this elevated values debate is because our country is heading into a divisive Presidential election year. Or maybe it is because big policy debates are underway about LGBTQ and gun rights issues. Regardless, all of this talk has me thinking about the role of values and your non-profit organization’s resource development program.
Whenever I facilitate a strategic planning process for a client, regardless of which planning model I use, the process typically starts off with assessment of the current state and quickly rolls into facilitated discussions about mission, vision and organizational values. I always find it interesting that board volunteers find it easy to talk about mission and vision, but they generally seem to struggle with the values piece.
I suppose this shouldn’t surprise any of us. After all, values discussions can be emotional. Consider the following famous expressions about values:
- “Give me liberty or give me death!” ~Patrick Henry
- “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” ~Albert Einstein
- “Only men would think of cutting themselves to determine who the packleader is. Idiots.” ~Christopher Paolini
So, a values discussion can be emotional. Got it! And then a planning facilitator like me comes along and tells your organization it is important to come up with a list of “shared values.” I guess when I look at it from this perspective, it totally makes sense that people want to punt on this exercise.
Regardless of how difficult this might be, it is still important.
Why? Well, I think Roy Disney probably put it best when he said:
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
All of this gets me thinking about the countless discussions I’ve been a part of throughout the years with non-profit staff, boards and fundraising volunteers where difficult fundraising decisions were being made. The following are just a few examples:
- Should a gift from Big Tobacco be accepted when the organization runs anti-smoking and healthy life skills programming with its youth clients?
- Should a named gifts contract be signed with a donor who wants to put a Bible quote on the outside of the building when the organization is secular and committed to serving everyone in the community?
- Should a pledge be booked to one campaign versus another fundraising activity when a donor is clear about the benefits they desire and fuzzy about their intent; all of which is juxtaposed against staff wishing to achieve the goals laid out in their individual performance plans?
Of course, the easy answer is always . . . “What do your organizational policies say about this issue?”
However, weren’t those policies shaped and developed in a crucible of shared organizational values? I hope so.
Moreover, how many times have you dusted off those policy binders only to find they don’t speak clearly or directly to your issue? When this happens, then you’re right back where you started . . . stuck and left with your organization’s shared values.
There seem to be a number of different schools of thought on the question of fundraising values.
- Some people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values (hopefully found in your strategic planning document)
- Other people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values, but it should also have a set of supplemental values focused specifically on the unique activities stemming from resource development activities
- Still others believe that fundraising staff come with a set of values that bind them together as a profession
The Association of Fundraising Professionals subscribe to the third school of thought and have this to say about values:
“An ethical fundraiser aspires to: Observe and adhere to the AFP Code and all relevant laws and regulations; Build personal confidence and public support by being trustworthy in all circumstances; Practice honesty in relationships; Be accountable for professional, organizational and public behavior; Be transparent and forthcoming in all dealings; and, Be courageous in serving the public trust.”
To be honest, I’ve never operated under any one of these schools of thought. I guess my career has been guided and shaped by a hybrid (aka mishmash) of these ideas.
I’ve always taken the AFP ethics/values statement to heart, embraced my organization’s set of shared values, and superimposed my own set of individual values. As an Eagle Scout, my individual values have always been rooted in the 12-points of the Scout Law (e.g. trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent).
However, after some thoughtful consideration, I’m left worried that this approach could result in conflict. After all, what happens when an organizational value is in conflict with an individual value?
My best advice to those of you who care about values and the impact these potential conflicts might have on your organization is as follows:
- Invest time in developing your organization’s list of shared values
- Incorporate these values into your various systems (e.g. recognition, compensation, recruitment, etc)
- Integrate these shared values into your supplemental planning documents (e.g. resource development plan, baord development plan, marketing plan, individual performance plans, etc)
- Start every policy development exercise with a discussion about values
- Find a way to talk about your organization’s shared values in every board meeting (e.g. generative discussions, CEO report, committee reports, etc)
- Most importantly, build an organizational culture where it is safe for people to talk about their values in the context of shared organizational values (keeping in mind that your board is in a constant state of flux with volunteers coming and going)
To those of you who don’t care about this topic, I encourage you to turn on your television and watch some of the news coverage focused on what’s happening in Congress in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. If you don’t want your non-profit board room to look like that, then I suggest you start caring about the power of values.
Has your organization had to deal with a difficult decision recently? Did values play a role in fueling the conflict or solving the problem? If so, please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Earlier this week and last week, I started writing about the State of Illinois’ budget crisis and how it is impacting non-profit organizations. In Part 1 of this series, I shared survey results provided by United Way of Illinois along with other insights and perspectives . In Part 2, I talked to a non-profit executive director whose organization lost significant funding as a result of Illinois’ budget impasse and shared some surprising developments. Today, I have a suggestion for Illinois non-profit leaders to mull over as the crisis deepens (and there is lots here for non-profit leaders from other states to chew on, too).
Frog in boiling water
We’ve all heard the story about frogs and boiling pots of water. Right?
Assuming that some of you haven’t any clue of what I’m talking about, here is a nice summary from Wikipedia:
“The boiling frog is an anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that occur gradually.”
I have no clue what the origins of this old story are, but I do know this . . .
IT IS A MYTH!
Don’t want to take my word for it because you might have heard it from your grandfather or another beloved family member. No problem … I completely understand. Let me provide you with scientific proof. Simply click here, click here for more, and click here if you are in deep denial. If you clicked all three links, I’m guessing you probably also believe a number of other grossly inaccurate things about other animals and suggest you the Snopes.com article titled “Critter Country: Wild Inaccuracies”
So, what does any of this silliness have to do with non-profits and the Illinois budget impasse?
Your organization is like a frog!
In other words, your non-profit should (and likely will) jump out of the boiling waters of government funding if things get too hot. It is a simple matter of survival.
Question #1: When?
I’ve lamented too often — right here on this blog — that too many non-profit boards operate poorly. They don’t understand (and sometimes reject) their legally defined fiduciary responsibilities, focus their meetings obsessively on monitoring rather than governance, micromanage the organization and its staff, rubber stamp things (oftentimes very important things) that staff put in front of them, and my list can go on and on.
If anything in the last paragraph describes your organization’s board of directors, please hear me clearly . . .
You’re at risk!
In other words, you might just be on the road to proving all of the scientists, who said in the last section that “the boiling frog story is an urban legend,” are liars.
Your board is likely made up of smart people. If they aren’t being used (at a minimum) as a “sounding board” on the issue of government funding and what to do about it, then my suggestions are:
- Stop business as usual in your boardroom
- Start adding a 45 minute “generative discussion” agenda item to every one of your monthly meetings for the foreseeable future
- Focus your discussions around various aspects of your government funding situation
- Bring in guest speakers who know more than you do about state funding and your grants
- Pose open ended questions and facilitate an engaging dialog where everyone is encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings
- Don’t just have theoretical conversations … also pose action oriented questions (e.g. what are our options? what should we be doing?)
If you and your board can make this adjustment in non-profit governance, I guarantee you that . . .
It will be clear when it is time to jump out of the boiling pot!
Question #2: What?
Of course, the more difficult question for most non-profit organizations is “What to do about it?”
If your organization isn’t reliant on government funding, the answer is easy . . . carry on and try not to gloat too much around your non-profit friends. For those of you who rely on modest (or perhaps significant) government money, then you want to keep reading.
If you and your board have decided the water is getting a little too hot, then here are a few suggestions:
- Re-exam your non-profit revenue model
- Explore other models (refer to previous section about generative discussions in the boardroom)
- Make a group decision about which model (or hybrid model) is best for your organization at this time
- Don’t try to turn the battleship all at once … choose one (or a few) things to “try on for size” and experiment with small aspects of your new revenue model (e.g. write a private sector foundation grant, engage a corporate partner, identify prospective individual donors and start a conversation with them; write a business plan for a potential social enterprise, etc)
- Invest time, energy and effort in evaluation of every new thing you undertake and commit to nurturing a culture of improvement and excellence
- Celebrate every success from top-to-bottom and side-to-side of your organization (no matter how big or small it may be)
If you got this far and still find yourself scratching your head over the idea of different non-profit revenue models, then you need to click-through and read a Bridgespan white paper titled “Ten Nonprofit Funding Models“. I also highly suggest clicking on and reading every hyperlink embedded in the white paper.
If you don’t believe your organization can do this without help, then I have some good news. There are countless non-profit consultants (myself included) who are available for hire.
Stop listening to stupid people
I do NOT believe foundation leaders and United Way professionals are “stupid people“. However . . .
I have heard some people (in fact some are even dear friends of mine), amplify the cautionary words of foundations and United Ways and then twist them by concluding “private sector philanthropy” cannot fill the gap. It is these folks to whom I urge you to please stop listening.
The reality is that foundations, corporations and United Ways only account for 20% of the $358 billion of charitable giving. The remainder of the pie (a huge whopping 80%) comes from individuals either directly or through bequests.
Moreover, charitable giving is only 2% of our country’s GDP.
The pie can be increased. There is room to expand and grow. Foundation leaders and United Way professionals never said private sector philanthropy couldn’t be the solution (or at least a big part of the solution). They were simply say that politicians need to stop telling voters their organizations will fill the gap.
Are you a doubting Thomas? If so, then I have a proposition for you . . .
Add this topic to your board agenda. I think it makes for an awesome generative discussion. If you’re an Illinois non-profit organization and you’re looking for someone to speak in your boardroom on this subject and facilitate a generative discussion, then please contact me because I would be willing to consider it.
Next up in this blog series?
I’ve sent emails to a handful of politicians and policymakers who I trust and respect. I’ve invited them to share their thoughts on this subject. If any of them respond, then I’ll publish those next week.
In the meantime, please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences on the Illinois budget impasse, the impact you’re seeing on the non-profit sector, your thoughts on what organizations should be doing about it, or anything else that is top of mind regarding the state of government funding (federal, state or local) and those trends. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
A few times every year I get a phone call from a non-profit friend who is experiencing a cash flow issue. The conversation always starts off with a tinge of embarrassment and then quickly morphs into finger pointing and finally ends with a sense of resignation and desperation. I received another one of these phone calls the other day, which reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog about this subject for quiet some time. The following are a few quick tips on how to handle your non-profit organization’s cash flow crisis.
Remain calm and confident
One of my favorite movie scenes is at the end of Animal House when Kevin Bacon’s character is trying to keep the peace in the middle of the parade-turned-riot when he is shouting, “Remain calm! All is well.”
During a cash flow crunch, it is important for you to remain calm and encourage everyone else in the organization (e.g. board volunteers, staff, donors, etc) to do the same.
Why? Simply because . . .
- People don’t follow leaders who aren’t confident and composed
- Panic and fear spread quicker than the flu
- People don’t typically make good decisions when they are panicked and fearful
Develop a 90 day plan
You have lots of short-term options that will help bridge your organization through a cash flow crisis. The following is a short list of some of those options:
- Secure a loan (this can be a traditional short-term loan from the bank or a promissory note from a donor)
- Search your donor database for LYBUNTs (e.g. lapsed, former donors) and ask them to renew their support
- Meet with your largest donors and ask them to make another contribution
- Look at your accounts receivable list and ask those donors if they would consider making a pledge payment sooner than they had indicated on their pledge card
- Ask board members to make another contribution
- Prioritize which outstanding invoices need to be paid now and which ones can wait
- Work with your Finance Committee (or key board volunteers) to develop a new budget plan for your new realities (or develop multiple budgets for a variety of revenue scenarios)
- Use unpaid furlough days with some staff to temporarily reduce payroll expenses (be cognizant of what this will do to morale and possible employee turnover)
I wrote a blog post titled “So, your non-profit cannot make its payroll obligation” a few years ago about some of these options. You might want to click-through to read more.
Understand what caused the problem
If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a number of times . . . board volunteers want to hold someone accountable after the crisis passes. In my opinion, the best way to survive this dynamic is to be able to point to:
- Your calm leadership during the crisis
- Your role in developing the short-term plan
- Your understanding of what caused the problem
- Your commitment to fixing the things that cause the problem
There is a fine line between assessment and finger pointing in these situations. Whatever you do, avoid finger pointing because your board of directors will interpret it as “not taking responsibility“.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to undertake an assessment, but my suggestion is that you do it with many people sitting around the table. The more eyes you have looking at this situation, the more likely you will be to see all sides of the problem. Consider involving staff who play some role in financial management, board volunteers with a background in finance, and possibly even an external consultant who can come at this with fresh eyes.
Develop a long-term plan
Now that you’ve made it through the crisis and have a firm understanding of what caused it, it is important have a new long-term plan that keeps you from ending up back from where you just came.
As with the last section, I strongly suggest you don’t do this alone. Your plan will have more credibility if many participated in its creation. Remember, the board will look skeptically at any plan that is developed by the same people who they perceive as having played a role in creating the original crisis. Involving fresh faces with lots of credibility helps address this dynamic.
Your plan will be unique to your organization and your situation; however, the following are just a few “fixes” I’ve personally seen embraced more often than not:
- Making revisions to the resource development plan (e.g. adding more to the fundraising plan)
- Making process changes to the budget construction process
- Making process changes to billing/invoicing donors and grant providers
- Changing how the board monitors/oversees the finances
- Undertaking a re-organization of the company focused on staff/payroll reduction
Well, good luck with your cash flow crisis. Hopefully, these big picture suggestions are helpful and get you pointed in the right direction. If you have any ideas or experiences that you wish to share, please do so in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
A few weeks ago I received a call from a friend who asked me (aka The Healthy Non-Profit LLC) to submit a proposal to conduct an organizational assessment for a regional non-profit organization. He recently joined the board of directors of this organization, and during his first few meetings he concluded that his fellow board members might need a little “perspective”. As we spent a little time on the phone framing the proposal, he made a very specific request of me . . .
“Please go into great detail about why it is a best practice for non-profit organizations to invest in an organizational assessment facilitated by an external consultant.”
In the space below, I attempt to elaborate on this question by sharing two personal non-organizational stories that I consider analogies for non-profit organizations. I also end this post by sharing the actual one-page of text I included in my proposal and ask DonorDreams readers to please use the comment box to help me add/subtract to this case for support (for the benefit of future proposals).
Story #1: Mom & Dad aren’t on the same page
I am a lucky son because both my Mom and Dad are still married and living in the same community and same subdivision where I grew up (except they moved across the street when I went away to college). A few years ago, both of my parents retired and have been trying to figure out what to do with their new found time.
Just the other day while visiting Mom and Dad, the conversation turned to the subject of “To Infinity and Beyond“. To clarify what I mean by this, here are a list of questions that were being asked and not really answered:
- How long do you plan on staying in your current house?
- Have you given any thought to what you want to do when staying where you’re at doesn’t make any more sense?
- Oh? You want to move to Florida? When were you thinking you might do that?
- Where in Florida do you see yourself living?
- Are you keeping the house in Illinois and planning to live like “snowbird retirees“? Or are you selling the house? And when are you planning to do that? And when do you plan on thinning out all of your STUFF?
If you’ve ever gone down this road with your parents, you know how frustrating this discussion can become.
In my instance, it became clear that these two people, who spend approximately 75% of their lives no more than 100 feet from each other, were NOT on the same page. I’ll spare you the details (and protect their privacy), but suffice it to say one of my parents has a two-year plan in mind and the other was taking the long view with a 10-year plan. And this was just the beginning of their differences.
So, what does this have anything to do with your non-profit organization and the best practice of periodic organizational assessment?
Simple . . .
Next time you are in your boardroom, I encourage you to stop whatever you’re doing, look around the room at each of your board volunteers and imagine how each one of them would answer the following questions:
- Who are we as an organization? Why do we exist?
- Where are we going as an organization?
- Where should we be going as an organization?
- What is currently working well for us?
- What are we challenged by?
- What opportunities exist outside of our four walls that we should be trying to take advantage of?
- What storms are brewing on the horizon that we need to better position the organization for?
I guarantee that if you do this exercise honestly, you will probably find the same thing I found with my parents which is . . .
You will see awesome people, who are engaged around shared values and a mission, BUT who all have a slightly different view on things that are very important to your organization.
It is for this reason that periodic assessments are necessary. If done by someone external to your organization (possessing a fresh set of eyes and ears), then you can learn a lot about what isn’t being said and then incorporate it into the next step — a planning process (of some sort).
Story #2: My trip to the doctor
I’ll keep this story short and sweet since this post is getting too long. Yesterday, I went to my doctor for my annual physical.
Why did I go?
- A bump recently appeared on my finger
- I’ve been fatigued more than usual lately
- I’ve had the same cold virus going on five weeks now
- And a variety of other little reasons that I shouldn’t go into on the internet LOL
You’ve probably heard that an annual physical examination by your doctor is a best practice. In fact, it is strongly encouraged by most insurance companies that typically don’t even charge you a co-pay for such a visit.
Why is this form of annual assessment of your health considered so important by health practitioners?
Simple . . . there are things you cannot see and do not have knowledge of that this assessment will help diagnose and lead you to act upon. The same logic holds true for your non-profit organization.
Asking a small favor of you . . .
As I explained at the beginning of this post, the following is approximately one page of text that I included in my recent proposal. Would you please do me the small favor of reading it and provide your two cents on what you would add or subtract from this written case for support? You can also simply tell me what is missing (or what you really like) in the comment box below. My plan is to incorporate your feedback into the next proposal I’m asked to write like this one. Thank you in advance for your help. 🙂
Why is periodic assessment a best practice?
In layman’s terms, periodic organizational assessment is akin to a physical exam that people periodically engage in with their physicians.
While assessments take many different shapes, almost all attempt to answer the following questions:
- Who are we?
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to go?
Answers to these questions typically become a precursor to board activities such as creating an organizational:
- Long term plan
- Strategic Plan
- Business Plan
- Short-term tactical plan
While looking carefully at the question of “Who are we” might seem silly to some people, it is important because organizations morph and change over time. Moreover, the “need(s)” that an organization was initially created to address may no longer exist or may have evolved.
The question of “Where are we now” is oftentimes difficult to ascertain without the help of an external consultant. The reason for this is the same reason people pay therapists / counselors to help assess what is going on inside of ourselves. The simple truth is that it is hard to get outside of our own bodies to see what is really going on. What makes this even more difficult with non-profit organizations is the fact that there are many different people sitting around the boardroom table oftentimes with various opinions and perspectives.
The question of “Where do we want to go” is more of a planning discussion than it is an assessment question. However, good organizational assessments have the ability to access what various stakeholders are thinking about the future. Being able to see all of these different viewpoints can help the board frame productive discussions at the start of a planning process focused on vision and goal setting.
As it is illustrated on the previous page, organizations go through a predictable lifecycle, and an organizational assessment can help board volunteers see where they are at in that cycle and have productive discussions about what to do about it.
Thanks for indulging me today. I appreciate being able to share a few stories and a portion of a business proposal with the smart readers of the DonorDreams blog. I truly believe that we can all learn from each other (as I’ve stated hundreds of times over the last five years of blog posts). Today, I am doubling down on this believe by asking for your feedback. I appreciate your willingness to participate in such an exercise.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
As most of you know, I’ve been traveling A LOT lately and I haven’t had the opportunity to watch a lot of television. However, it seems like every time I have the TV turned on, I’m seeing a television commercial from General Electric (GE) that talks about “ideas”.
Have you ever experienced a commercial that grabs you in such a way that you can’t get it out of your head? If so, then you know what I’ve been experiencing for the last month. There is something about this commercial that just speaks truth to me.
If you receive this blog via an email subscription, then click this link to view the “Ideas Are Scary” commercial. If you are viewing this in your browser, then you can click the video image below:
I think this television commercial speaks to me because I routinely see this play out live and in-person as a non-profit consultant. The following are just a few examples:
- Strategic planning discussions where ideas are shot down for any number of reasons ranging from lack of resources to lack of leadership
- Annual campaign planning meetings where volunteers express resistance to sitting down with donors in-person to talk about making a pledge to the campaign (typically rooted in fear)
- Boardroom discussions where investing in organizational capacity building efforts is met with resistance because it means getting outside of an organizational comfort zone
And if this is a common theme in my life, then I know it something with which many non-profit CEOs and fundraising professionals constantly are confronted.
So, today’s post begs the question . . .
What should non-profit leaders do differently to make ideas less scary and improve their ability to lead change?
There has been a fair amount of writing over the last five years on the DonorDreams blog platform by me and number of guest bloggers on the subject of leading change, and the following are a few of my favorites:
- Embrace storytelling as a catalyst for organizational change
- Can’t change your non-profit ways? That’s just BS!
- How to avoid groupthink in your non-profit boardroom
- Change 101: Sell-Sell-Sell and then Strategy-Strategy-Strategy
However, I am left with two questions:
- How can non-profit leaders build an organizational culture that embraces new ideas, creativity and innovation?
- How can non-profit leaders build shared vision among all stakeholders (e.g. staff, board, donors, etc)?
I know the answer to both of these questions includes parts and pieces of the following:
- writing and refining a powerful “case for support” document
- getting the right people sitting around the table
- engaging everyone in the process, hearing their concerns and incorporating their thoughts until everyone has an ownership stake in the idea
However, there is much, much more to leading change than the simple six step model that some organizational development consulting/training companies teach, and I suspect it has something to do with your organization’s culture. This is where I think all of us can learn from The Walt Disney Company, home of “Imagineering”. (Note: this term is trademarked by Disney)
I always thought Imagineering was a just an idea the folks at Disney embraced and knit into their corporate culture. However, after a little wiki research, I’ve learned this is a full-blown organizational development concept rooted in:
- org structure
- direction setting
If you are a frustrated non-profit leader (either paid staff or volunteer) and want to figure out how to make ideas less scary and more likely to be embraced, my suggestion is to research what works for General Electric (aka the people who “Bring Good Things to Life” and espouse “Imagination at Work”) and The Walt Disney Company (aka home of the imagineer).
You might be surprised by the number of best practices you find and how many you are able to implement at your non-profit organization.
In the meantime, please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences on how you’ve tried to change organizational culture or build shared/common vision. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Do you know which skills and experiences are most important for a new board volunteer to possess in order to succeed on your board? Knowing this could help your organization conduct better prospecting exercises and result in better prospect recruitment lists. Today’s post is the third in a three part non-profit board development series that started last week. During this time, we focused on a recent survey released by our friends at non-profit technology research firm Software Advice of 1,545 board volunteers and people tasked with recruiting new board members. The survey’s key findings probably won’t surprise you, but the implications might change the way you think about your organization’s future board development efforts.
The final two findings of SoftwareAdvice.com’s survey that caught my eye related to skills and experiences. The first finding was:
“Basic computer skills (e.g. email, Excel, etc) are the most important technology skill for service (44 percent).“
The remaining 66% of responses were as follows:
The other finding was:
“Fundraising experience was the most cited (24 percent) skill set and experience that has the greatest impact on a board member’s success.“
The other responses included:
As I digested these final two findings, I immediately had two visceral reactions.
Was Carol Weisman wrong?
If you haven’t heard Carol speak or read her books, then you need to figure out how to check those things off of your non-profit bucket list. She is amazing!
When I read the study’s finding about “basic tech skills,” my mind immediately wandered back to a Boys & Girls Clubs of America conference hosted somewhere in the Midwest more than 10 years ago. Carol was one of the keynote speakers, and she was talking about building an amazing board of directors.
I remember her sitting on a stool on a large stage with a wireless lapel mic telling fun stories about non-profit boards and individual board volunteers. She was also likely promoting one of her many books. I was a relatively new and young non-profit executive director, and everything she said sounded right on target.
During Carol’s presentation, one of the things she talked about was how technology is changing non-profit boardroom dynamics. She shared a story about a board she had worked with that had embraced technology. If my memory serves me correctly, the following were just a few examples:
- Every board member was provided a laptop computer by the organization
- Board members received their board meeting agenda and info packet electronically
- Volunteer who were out of town for meetings would use their webcam and remotely attend and participate
I am a member of GenX, and this news made my heart sing. I was so excited to hear that my Baby Boomer board could be transformed into that type of board. I came home from that conference with renewed focus and determination to figure out how tech can help my board become more engaged and efficient in governance.
I started digitally scanning my board packets. I created an intranet site for the board. I uploaded board packets and other materials (e.g. policies, procedures, etc) to the intranet. Needless to say, no one followed me, and I abandon my tech efforts a year later.
The lesson learned was:
“You get the board you recruit!”
We had not recruited the board that Carol described in her conference keynote speech. My board development committee had not included “better-than-basic tech skills” as a skill set criteria. The result was that my board possessed basic tech skills related to the Microsoft Office productivity suite and email. They were light years away from going paperless and using Skype.
So, I guess Carol wasn’t “wrong” because tech will obviously change the boardroom experience, but . .
- change will likely take much longer than we thought (and will likely happen when GenX and Millennial board volunteers make up the majority on most boards)
- change will occur faster only if board development and board governance committees include tech skills in their search criteria when assembling their prospect lists
If you are looking for additional board development tools to add to your organization’s board development toolbox, then you should read a wonderful blog post by the National Council of Nonprofits and check out their hyperlinks to additional online resources. The post was titled “Finding the Right Board Members for Your Nonprofit“.
Fundraising experience is underrated
When I read that only 25% of survey respondents identified “fundraising skills and experiences” as having a great impact on a board member’s success, I literally groaned and rolled by eyes.
Sure, it was the number one response, but it was still only one-quarter of respondents. As my 10-year-old niece would say . . .
I suspect that fundraising might not be as important for non-profits that rely on fees and government money to buoy their business model, but the vast majority of non-profits with which I’ve worked aren’t hospitals and universities. Many non-profits have fundraising at the core of their business model, and it is one of the most difficult things I’ve seen board volunteers struggle with.
More oftentimes than not, when I’ve seen a board volunteer frustrated and on the verge of resigning, it usually has something to do with fundraising.
Of course, the solution is the same as I mentioned in the last section . . . “You get the board you recruit, and the board development committee needs to include fundraising skills and experiences in their search criteria.”
The tougher question is “what are fundraising skill and what should we be looking for?” My suggestion is to look for the following when going through prospect identification and evaluation exercises:
- people who donate to other charities and appear to have an appreciation for philanthropy
- people who are social and appear to have larger than average social networks
- people who have served on other non-profit board with a business model rooted in fundraising
- people who belong to service clubs that organize fundraising activities
- people who are passionate about your mission (e.g. are willing to walk across hot coals to achieve success for your organization)
- people who are well-versed at “closing the deal” in their professional lives (e.g. people who work in sales, banking, self-employed, etc)
- people who are assertive, persuasive, good communicators, relationship builders, etc.
Gail Perry speaks much more eloquently than I do on this subject. You might want to read her blog post titled “Mastering the ‘Soft Skills’ of Fundraising” and figure out if you can add any of those qualities to your board development prospect identification and evaluation process.
If you missed the earlier blog posts in this board development series, I encourage you to investigate the previous two posts from last week. You might also want to click-through and read SoftwareAdvice.com’s full survey report titled “Tech Skills and Other Considerations for Joining a Nonprofit Board IndustryView“.
What are your thoughts and experiences regarding tech and fundraising skills and experiences and your board of directors? Are you doing anything different now as part of your board development process that might help other non-profit professionals and volunteers re-think their approach? Please use the comment box below to share.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC