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
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the non-profit CEO hiring and on-boarding process because a former client of mine is starting to go down this path. So, I decided to get creative and use Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass to talk about what many new non-profit CEO’s go through during and immediately after they’re hired.
For those of you who are wondering, I did pull from my personal experiences; however, I did embellish a little for entertainment purposes.
You might also be wondering what I ate or drank to come up with such a crazy idea? Well, I did play the role of the Dormouse in my high school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. And this awesome story has stuck with me ever since. 😉
Once upon a time, there was a young girl by the name of Alice.
Alice worked for a non-profit organization as a front line staff person. Her organization’s mission was inspirational. She worked with volunteers every day to operationalize that mission in a variety of ways. She helped train volunteers. She engaged donors to financially support the organization’s work. She planned a variety of events both programmatic and fundraising in nature. She sometimes even got to roll up her sleeves and get involved with program implementation.
Alice was successful, and the path in front of her was full of hope and opportunity.
One day while skipping down this path, Alice was approached by a White Rabbit. This nervous rabbit recognized Alice’s raw talents and suggested “she has what it takes” to provide leadership to another organization. In short order, Alice had reviewed a vacancy notice, done what she thought was appropriate due diligence, applied for the non-profit CEO position, and gone through a series of interviews with the rabbit and his search committee.
Upon signing an offer sheet, Alice found herself tumbling down a rabbit hole. At the bottom of this hole, Alice was disoriented but determined. As she turned to the White Rabbit for advice and her next steps, she saw him running away and heard him saying over his shoulder, “Hello, Goodbye. I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.”
As Alice tried calling after the rabbit, she was interrupted by a smiling Cheshire Cat. Startled and disoriented, she asked the cat what she should do first.
- What are the organization’s priorities?
- Is there a 90 day plan waiting for her?
- Can she please see the organization’s strategic plan?
Instead of helping, the cat simply smiled and remarked that she must be stark, raving mad. “Everyone here is mad. I’m mad. You’re mad. It’s only by chance n’ careful planning if you’re not!” In a blink of an eye, the cat fades away and wishes her luck on her new adventure.
In her first few days, with little to no direction, Alice was hungry for a challenge. She knew that her new organization needs her. After all, the rabbit and his search committee shared with her some of the organization’s challenges throughout the search process. They also assured her every step of the way that she was perfect for the job. This must be the truth because in the end, they did choose her over a number of other applicants.
Without any hesitation, Alice decided to dig in. She ate a project, and promptly grew ten times bigger. She drank another challenge and shrank smaller than she ever thought possible. As she looked around for evidence that this was indeed strange and bizarre, no one seemed to validate her feelings. There was no feedback, and there was definitely no help.
One of the first characters Alice encounters, after the White Rabbit ran away, was a hookah smoking caterpillar. As it turned out, the caterpillar worked at the organization. Needless to say, this encounter didn’t go well. My friend Lewis Carroll does a better job recalling the conversation:
‘Who are you?’ asked the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’
‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’
‘I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.
‘I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, ‘for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’
‘It isn’t,’ said the Caterpillar.
Shaken by this meeting, Alice decided to leave the office to explore the new community of which she was now an important member. Perhaps, other stakeholders — board members, volunteers, community leaders, collaborative partners, and donors — could help her get oriented and pointed in the right direction.
Without much effort, Alice came across a Tea Party with a wide range of characters. There was a Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse. These three donors couldn’t seem to get along, nor did they seem to agree on why people supported the organization. When Alice weighed into the conversation by saying she had a good guess as to why the average donor supported the organization, the following weird discussion ensued:
The March Hare: You mean you think you know the answer?
The March Hare: Well, then, you should say what you mean.
Alice: Well, I do. At-at least, at least I mean what I say, that-that is the same thing.
Mad Hatter: It’s not the same thing at all. You might as well say “I eat what I see” is the same thing as “I see what I eat!”
The March Hare: You might as well say “I like what I get” is the same as “I get what I like!”
The Dormouse: [talking in his sleep, then suddenly awake] Aah! You-you, or you might as well say “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe.” [he quickly noded off again]
Mad Hatter: Well, it is the same thing with you.
Frustrated with the idea that her organization’s case for support was perceived differently by so many different donors, Alice decided to leave the tea party. Taking notice, the Mad Hatter yelled after her a few final words of advice, “[This] is a place. Like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger! Some say to survive it: You need to be as mad as a hatter.”
Alice pulls out a piece of paper she had taken a few notes on and started checking off stakeholders’ names. Perhaps, visiting with other non-profit CEOs in the community would help put her feet on the ground.
At a gathering of her peers, Alice was approached by two identical looking individuals. She attempted to strike up a conversation about resource development, asking about which families are part of the community’s core philanthropic circle. She prattled on about the importance of individual giving and even tried to impress them with her knowledge about private sector fundraising trends. Instead of finding comrades-in-arms, Tweedledee and Tweedledum bark back at her and said, “Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”
Having lost her words, Alice paused but quickly recoiled when the gathering of her peers started staring at her and eerily began reciting the following poem:
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrave.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jujub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum gree,
And stood awhile in thought
And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrave.
Of course, it didn’t make sense, but in this place of nonsense, it made all the sense in the world. Her peers were trying to warn her about her organization’s board of directors. In fact, it wasn’t just Alice’s board they were chanting about. They were talking about all of their boards.
Without hesitation, Alice left the gathering of her peers and started running off in the direction of her board president — The Queen of Hearts — and the rest of the board, which was made up of a deck of cards.
In her first encounter with The Queen of Hearts, Alice had lots of questions to ask.
- Is there a plan (or at least a direction set by the board) that she could put her hands on?
- If not, then does the queen have any thoughts on where Alice should roll up her sleeves and start?
- Should she immediately turn her attention to building organizational capacity around resource develop and fundraising? Programming and operations? Board development and board governance?
Without hesitation or any thought, the queen snapped off a response. She explained that the organization was in perfect shape. There was no need to do any of that work, and doing so would simply be a diversion in her opinion. The queen proclaimed that Alice needs to only set her sights on running a multi-million capital campaign.
After giving this a few moments of consideration, Alice decided she must not have been clear in explaining some of what she had witnessed after her tumble down the rabbit hole. So, she started all over again only to be abruptly interrupted by the queen. She said, “I warn you, child… if I lose my temper, you lose your head! Understand?”
This is the start of Alice’s non-profit CEO tenure. While the adventure continued for many years and she had many successes (and learning opportunities), this is a good place to pause the story and ask . . .
- What was your experience with your organization’s CEO search process?
- What was different with your orientation?
- Was there as on-boarding plan in place? What did it look like?
- Did you receive a 90-day plan?
- Were there organizational scan worksheets to help guide you through your first three months?
Please use the comment box below to share your answers or any other experiences/thoughts you might have. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
I apologize to the DonorDreams community for not publishing anything in the last two weeks. I’ve been working on this very personal post and it took me quiet a long time to get it all out and written the way I wanted. Today’s post is heavy and serious, but I’m hopeful you will enjoy and appreciate what went into writing it. Here’s to your health! ~Erik
Step into my shoes and see the non-profit world through my eyes
By Erik Anderson
The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Recently, I was approached with a business lead and encouraged to pursue it. In discussing the opportunity with friends, they shared that I’d have a better chance teaching a pig to fly than securing the work in question.
Because one of the organization’s biggest stakeholders was seriously homophobic. This influential individual wasn’t just politically opposed to the LBGTQ agenda, which has been front and center in our news cycle for the last few years, but they allegedly advocate for not hiring gay people for a number of unfounded and ignorant reasons.
As a gay man in a 13-year married relationship and living openly and out of the closet with my husband, you can imagine some of my initial reactions to this revelation . . . denial, hopelessness, anger, etc. After working through these feelings, I found myself in a familiar place, which was inside my own head fighting against my internalized homophobia.
After working through some of these emotions, I decided to blog about my non-profit journey as it pertains to my sexual orientation. I promise you that this will be a very factual blog post. My intention is to simply share experiences and not editorialize. If I choose to offer a few suggestions, I will do so in a subsequent post.
My time with the Boy Scouts
I know what you’re thinking, and I did know about the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) membership policy restrictions before I applied. I loved this organization so much (e.g. being a member since 7-years-old, Eagle Scout, summer camp staff, etc), I actually convinced myself that I could be celibate and never need to worry about being caught.
At the time of the job offer, very few people knew that I was gay. I had recently gone through a divorce and had only recently started grappling with sexual orientation questions. Interestingly, it was the BSA’s job offer that prompted me to come out of the closet to my Mom (she was the first family member I had told).
Because there were scout professionals and volunteer leaders who were being fired for being gay, and it wasn’t uncommon for those events to make their way into newspaper stories. When I thought about the possibility (albeit unlikely) of my family learning about my secret from a newspaper article, it broke my heart and prompted me to take action. I drove from the council parking lot to my Mom’s place of employment, which is where I tearfully confessed my secrets and asked for her help in making an employment decision.
I loved my time working for my local BSA council. I was back in the youth development sector working with volunteers and learning new skills (e.g. fundraising). For my career, things were sunny. For my personal life, things were dark. The LBGTQ question was top of mind for the organization, and I can honestly say it was a topic of conversation among employees and volunteers at least handful of times every month.
Here are a few examples of conversations I vividly recall:
- Volunteers pointing at phrases in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to justifying the ban on LGBTQ kids and adults. Phrases such as “morally straight” or “A scout is clean” or “A scout is reverent“
- What to do about a group of teenage scouts who were doing inappropriate and seemingly somewhat sexually experimental things on camping trips and whether or not those activities should be considered “gay” and a violation of the BSA membership policies.
- The day after Matthew Shepard was attacked, tied to a fence and stoned to death for being gay, every scout professional in the country received a media notice from the national office. The alert informed us of the incident, identified one of the murderers as an Eagle Scout, and provided scout professionals with instructions for what to do if contacted by a member of the news media.
- A colleague and friend expressing concern that I wasn’t dating anyone after a few years of being divorced, and he humorously suggesting I should be careful because “people might start talking and assume that I was gay.”
- Of course, the Supreme Court case — Boy Scouts of America v. Dale — was still in the media spotlight and everyone loved speculating and chattering about hypotheticals (e.g. the Mormon church would disaffiliate if the ruling went against the BSA, membership would fall, councils/camps would close, etc)
- My favorite flavor of conversations (sarcasm intended) was with adult leaders who saw gay men as a perversion and outright said or strongly implied that gay men were pedophiles.
It was an uncomfortable few years, which is why I was so excited to receive a job offer to become the executive of a local Boys & Girls Club organization.
My time with Boys & Girls Club (local)
While I was coming out of the closet to more family and friends by this time, I strategically made the decision to professionally remain in the closet. The following is a myriad of reasons (aka fears) that ruled my life at the time and provided me with the excuses to remain closeted:
- Our organization had strong support among the African American community and was seen by some as the main after-school provider for that community. When you juxtapose this reality with the news reports and studies about homophobia within the African American community, it was enough to give me pause.
- I had local religious leaders serving on my board of directors and helping with fundraising efforts, and none of those congregations were LGBTQ friendly.
- There were socially conservative individuals who were donors to the organization, and the idea of someone pulling their support because they didn’t like the executive director’s sexual orientation was a risk I didn’t feel comfortable taking.
- The State of Illinois had not yet passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) legislation, and I asked the board to change the organization’s EEOC policy to include “sexual orientation” protections. I wasn’t motivated by my circumstances, but some foundations at the time were making their funding contingent on making these changes. Needless to say, that was an uncomfortable boardroom discussion.
Working for the Boys & Girls Club was a significant improvement from the toxic anti-LBGTQ Boy Scout culture; however, I met someone in 2003 and started secretly dating him. After integrating him into my professional life by introducing him as a “fundraising volunteer,” it became clear this strategy only would work for a short period of time. I was obviously not sustainable.
In December 2006, I dropped to one knee and asked the love of my life to spend the rest of his life with me. This was prior to civil unions and marriage equality. Within 60 seconds of proposing, I asked for the largest favor that I had ever asked anyone in my life. I asked my husband-to-be if he could give me up to 12 months to find a new job before we move in together and plan a reception/party for family and friends where we could proclaim our love for each other and intentions to spend the rest of our lives together.
What should’ve been one of the happiest moments of my life, instead felt conflicted and complicated because of my internalized homophobia.
Boys & Girls Club (national staff)
It didn’t take a year for me to find a new job. I hooked on with the national organization, and I naively thought my professional life in the closet might be coming to an end. However, it was just a few days into my new job that a very dear friend who also worked for the organization spelled out the “rules of being gay.”
He explained that many of my co-workers would be generally accepting. He even suggested some professionals and volunteers working for local affiliates (which were the clients I would be working with as an internal consultant) might also be very accepting. However, there would likely be many local affiliates located in smaller communities who wouldn’t take kindly to an openly gay individual coming into their boardrooms and communities to work with them on fundraising and organizational development.
So, the bottom line was . . . “Be careful and use your common sense.”
Yet, it was the final few sentences of this conversation I found chilling and a cold splash of reality. He said:
“Erik, if local organizations choose to lock you out because of your decision to be open about your sexual orientation, your employer won’t be firing you because you are gay. They will simply be firing you because you are ineffective in getting your job done.“
While truer words have never been spoken on this subject to me, the result was more time in my professional closet and continued game playing.
Some of you are probably wondering what I mean by “game playing.” Let me try to explain . . .
It was very common for the organization with which I worked to ask all sorts of personal questions during the course of our work. The following are just a few examples:
- Where do you live? Grow up?
- What is your background? (both personally and professionally)
- Why did you leave your Boys & Girls Club to work for the national office?
- Are you married? For how long?
- Do you have kids? Do you want kids?
I never viewed these questions as something stemming from nosiness or inappropriateness. I understood that consultants (regardless of whether they are internal or external) and their clients must develop a foundation of trust. Without trust and a great rapport, it is impossible to achieve goals and grow the organization.
So, the following are a few examples of the “games” I would play:
- become silent and only answer direct questions
- answer a benign question or two before changing the subject
- play the pronoun game (e.g. only refer to my husband as “my spouse” or “they”)
My time at Boys & Girls Clubs of America were a time of tremendous personal and professional growth. I love the people there, and there isn’t a day that passes when I don’t think about how grateful I am. (Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back one day if the timing and situation are right.)
Shortly after turning 40-years-old, I found myself in a difficult place of conflict. I suspect many people might call this a “mid-life crisis.” While there were many things playing into this emotionally tumultuously time in my life, I’m confident my continual practice of “lies of omission” in my work life helped this situation germinate.
The idea of spinning off my own non-profit consulting practice started making a lot of sense to me.
- I could choose my own clients
- I could develop my own toolkit, approaches and points of view
- I could cut back on my travel schedule based on who I decided to take on as clients
- I could stop living my life completely out of the closet professionally speaking
The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Five years ago in May 2011, I registered my new non-profit consulting practice with the Illinois Secretary of State. The Healthy Non-Profit LLC was born.
If you’ve gotten this far, then you probably can see what is coming, and it can all be summed up in an old expression: “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
I get many phone calls from organizations wanting to hire me, and I immediately wonder how open would they be to hiring me if they knew I was gay. While this was a concern when I was an internal consultant working for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, it is even more acute now that I am an external consultant.
Why? Because external consultants don’t get paid if they don’t sell work, which means there can be a financial incentive to bend on your values/principles from time-to-time.
Here are just a few examples of difficult situations in which I’ve found myself over the last five years:
- I was in a client’s boardroom getting ready for my portion of the agenda while board volunteers argued over revisions to their bylaws pertaining to LGBTQ questions
- I was verbally pinned down by a board volunteer, who didn’t have much patience for the pronoun game I was playing, and I flat out lied by turning my husband into my wife
- After mustering a little courage and referencing my husband in a conversation with staff (who you could tell were shocked and confused by what I was saying), I was a coward and reverted back to the pronoun game
- I periodically get requests for proposals from faith-based organizations, which a majority of the time I will refer to other consultants because I’m convinced they wouldn’t want to work with me if they knew the truth
And this is where I am at today.
However, before I wrap up this long blog post, I want to go back to the very beginning, which is where I should’ve started but didn’t have the courage to do so.
And in the beginning . . .
As a recent college graduate, I accepted a unit director position working at a new Boys & Girls Club in a very small rural town. I only stayed one year because I couldn’t pay the bills on that salary. The person who they hired to replace me didn’t last very long. I was asked by the advisory board to sit down with the search committee to help them build a candidate profile and brainstorm ways to build a better applicant pool.
What happened in that meeting was of no consequence to today’s blog post, but what happened after that meeting left an indelible mark on my heart.
Here is how the post-meeting dialog went down (names are changed to protect the not-so-innocent):
Joe: “Before we all leave, there is one other thing I want to discuss with the group.”
Mark: “Sure, please tell everyone what you and I discussed before the meeting.”
Joe: “Well, I don’t know if everyone knows, but the organization’s executive director recently had a roommate move in with him. This male friend was his former roommate from the last community where he worked, and he just moved halfway across the country to join him up here.”
Mark: “Can you be a little more specific for those who may not understand what you’re getting at, Joe?”
Joe: “Well, I’m saying this guy is much more than his ‘friend’. They are a couple. With what we’re trying to teach the youth of our community, I don’t think the corporate board is sending the right message by putting this guy as the face the entire organization.”
Mark: “So, what are you suggesting we do about it?”
Joe: “I think we need to call a few members of the corporate board, talk with them about the situation, and get it figured out.”
The messages I heard and internalized were loud and clear:
- Gay people need not apply
- If you do get the job, then you better hide because we’re watching closely
- If you don’t hide well enough, then we’re going to “talk it over, figure it out, and then come for you“
A Call To Action?
I promised you in the very beginning of this post that I would refrain from editorializing; but I will end with two calls to action (one of which is for me and other is for you).
While I am not religious person, I cannot get this Bible verse from the Book of Genesis out of my head:
“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.“
For too long, I have not let light into my professional life. As you can imagine, the closet is a very dark place. While I cracked the door on this closet many years ago and shared the truth with some of my non-profit friends and colleagues (e.g. introducing them to my husband, talking about my life truthfully, etc), many people still don’t know and every new client that comes into my life doesn’t have any idea.
So, today’s long blog post represents “. . . the first day” in a new professional life. The truth is that I don’t have a clue how I will go about achieving this bold proclamation, but I do know that my personal call to action is dedicating every fiber of my being towards figuring it out. Enough is enough!
This, of course, brings me to my second call to action, which involves you.
If you are a DonorDreams blog reader or subscriber who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with me on LGBTQ issues, let’s just simply agree to disagree. My hope is that you can try to see the non-profit community through my eyes and maybe you can see our values are more similar than dissimilar. More importantly, I hope you see that we have similar goals around making your organization bigger, better and stronger, which has nothing to do with what happens in my personal life.
However, if this isn’t possible, then please know that I accept you. Thank you for all of the good things you do every day for other people. Best wishes!
If you are a DonorDreams blog reader or subscriber who does see eye-to-eye with me (or perhaps this blog post helped you see things from a different perspective), then I have a favor to ask of you. If you think other people in your social networks might benefit from stepping into my shoes and seeing the non-profit world through my eyes, then please electronically share this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc and ask your connections to share it with their networks and so on and so on forth.
If enough people start looking at homophobia in the non-profit sector differently, then maybe more non-profit professionals, volunteers and clients might have the courage to burn down their closets like I am attempting to do. At which time, we can all start having honest discussions with each other. I suspect those discussion threads could be endless (e.g. programs, services, policies, procedures, bylaws, recruitment practices, marketing, resource development and fundraising, etc).
If you have strong thoughts on this subject, please feel free to share in the comment box below. I will approve all comments unless they are violent, extraordinarily hateful, or too far off topic. As I typically say at the end of my posts, we can all learn from each other.
I also usually sign-off by saying, “Here’s to your health,” but today I think I’ll change it up for the first time in five years by saying . . .
Here’s to your health (and my health, too)!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Like so many other people, I am a sucker for year-end predictions. I suspect it has something to do with being uncomfortable with an uncertain future. So, for each of the last few years, I’ve blogged about non-profit predictions and trends during the final few days of the year. Needless to say, I can’t resist doing it again as 2015 comes to a close. Drum roll please? I predict non-profit organization in 2016 will . . .
Grapple with HR issues
In mid-2015, the Department of Labor announced its proposal to dramatically increase the minimum salary levels for individuals classified as exempt executive, administrative or professional employees. This announcement kicked off a public comment period and prognostications that new rules will go into effect in 2016.
My prediction of “confusion” is based on the following facts and observations:
- I’ve heard some experts pontificate on the impact this rule change will have on the non-profit sector (e.g. layoffs, reorganization and consolidation of positions, outsourcing, etc)
- I’ve heard other experts insist the law doesn’t apply to the non-profit sector (e.g. the key criterion for this FLSA provision is “business or sales revenue” which is a standard most non-profits don’t meet)
- I’ve seen one national non-profit organization swing into action with webinars on how to position local affiliates for these anticipated changes
- I’ve sat in meetings with clients who are talking about how they anticipate this rule change will impact their 2016 budget and staff structure
- I’ve worked with a client in New York State who dealt with this when Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted a similar rule change last year and seen the challenges they’ve endured
- I’ve reviewed some of the non-profit submissions during the public comment period and walked away with that feeling of anxiety in my belly (. . . and needless to say, people are stressed out this)
- The Department of Labor seems to be signalling a delay in implementing changes (most experts anticipated implementation in early or mid 2016 and now it looks like it will happen in late 2016)
Do you want more proof of confusion? Check out the headlines on the following online articles and posts (and each post is worth a click if you have time):
- Nonprofit Quarterly: “The Debate over Reforming Overtime Regulations“
- Economic Policy Institute: “Why Nonprofits Shouldn’t Fret Over the New Proposed Overtime Rules“
- Wage & Hour Insights blog: “New Exemption Rules May Be Delayed To Late 2016“
Of course, anything is possible:
- Non-profits may get an exemption or they may not
- The proposed minimum salary of $50,440 may go up and it may go down
- DOL may change its “job duties tests” for executive, administrative and professional employees
Until the Department of Labor makes its final determination and announcement, I think it is safe to say there will be continued speculation. Moreover, I think once the changes are announced, those non-profit organizations who didn’t put contingency plans in place will find themselves in a chaotic place.
If after reading this far, you are experiencing a “bubbling, acidic feeling in your gut,” then I have a few suggestions for you:
- Don’t put your head in the sand and wait for DOL to issue changes to FLSA . . . start your planning now
- Identify all of your salaried exempt employees and make preliminary determinations on which ones you can/should increase to $50,000-ish and which employees you might have to change to a non-exempt status
- Revisit your organizational budget, invest some time into “scenario planning,” and develop a few different budget options your board can consider once the changes are announced
- Engage your HR Committee volunteers in these discussions and enlist their help in your planning efforts (if this committee doesn’t exist in your organization, then create a temporary ad hoc task force comprised of supporters with an HR background)
- Engage your Finance Committee volunteers in these discussions and enlist their help in your planning efforts (if this committee doesn’t exist in your organization, then create a temporary ad hoc task force comprised of supporters with a finance background)
- Start talking about it in your boardroom (this might be a great opportunity to ask board members to read an article or two and come prepared to participate in a generative discussion during a board meeting)
Today’s post reminds me of an old United States Marine Corps expression:
“Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance“
With this in mind, what are your thoughts, experiences and suggestions? Please use the comment box below to share. We can all learn from each other.
If you want to read some of my previous year-end predictions, here are a few links that will get you there:
- 2012 Trends and Predictions: Executive Transition
- 2012 Non-Profit Trends and Predictions: Rise of the Machines
- 2012 Non-Profit Trends and Predictions: Contraction Continues
- 2012 Non-Profit Trends and Predictions: Volunteerism
- The Final 2012 Non-Profit Prediction (I think this is my favorite prediction of all times)
- 2014 predictions for the non-profit sector
- Setting a New Years Resolution or two? Have you identified your obstacles yet?
- Fundraising New Year’s Resolution — Sustainable Giving Strategies
- Fundraising New Years Resolution — Upgrade Strategy
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Let’s face it. Working in the non-profit sector can feel like a grind. Compensation is typically less than what can be made in the for-profit sector. Clients can be challenging. Donors are awesome people, but getting them what they want and need can be difficult. Managing the day-to-day affairs of a resource strapped organization can leave you mumbling those words you learned from a bubble bath television commercial in the 1970s and 1980s, “Calgon, take me away!”
When I was a young Boy Scout professional almost 20 years ago, I received some great advice from my boss. He urged me to always show up for non-monetary paydays, which he believed were Eagle Scout ceremonies. He said attending those events reminded him of why he does what he does, and they always wiped those gray skies away.
Truth be told, I thought he was full of it when shared that advice with me. However, I discovered that I was jaded and he was right. It is a lesson I will never forget.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago . . .
I received an invitation to this year’s Elgin Community College commencement ceremony from LaShaunda (Clark) Jordan, who was the 2001 Youth of the Year (YOY) recipient at Boys & Girls Clubs of Elgin, which is where I was the executive director from 2000-06.
Sitting in the ECC field house waiting for things to get started, I found myself taking a walk down memory lane with regards to LaShaunda. Here is some of what was rolling through my head:
I was a relatively new executive director, and LaShaunda was the first kid to receive the YOY honor on my watch. I had also decided to change our annual dinner format from a Steak-n-Burger dinner to a Distinguished Citizens theme, and our Youth of the Year was going to take the stage with other important and influential community leaders. So, I personally rolled up my sleeves and helped front line staff prepare LaShaunda for her big speech and memorable evening.
I remembered pacing the back of the banquet hall as LaShaunda spoke to a room of 300 people. I was really nervous because we had all of the right people in the room, and LaShaunda’s big night was an equally big night for our organization.
And then it happened.
LaShaunda stopped talking. The electricity in the room brought people to their feet. Two or three incredibly influential community leaders and donors were wiping tears from their cheeks.
Our little known organization, which I just spent a difficult year managing, had arrived, and it did so thanks to its 16-year-old YOY recipient.
I thought that day back in 2001 was a huge non-monetary payday for me, but I realized how wrong I was while waiting for the ECC graduation event to get started. As the Class of 2015 filed into the gymnasium, LaShaunda took her seat on the main stage because she was the commencement speaker. Sitting among her proud family members, this is what I learned (much of which I knew but some I did not):
- LaShaunda is an air force veteran
- She met her husband, James, during her time in the air force and they are happily married
- They have three beautiful children
- Thanks to G.I. bill benefits, LaShaunda and James are in school pursuing college degrees and living the American dream.
- LaShaunda is enrolled at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville in the fall where she plans on completing work on a bachelor’s degree
- While at ECC, LaShaunda was a student leader who was involved in the Black Students Association and was nominated as the 2014-15 Woman of the Year on campus
- She just put her cancer in remission
It is the mission of the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.
Hindsight is 20/20, and the Distinguished Citizens Dinner wasn’t my non-monetary payday. It was the ECC graduation event.
LaShaunda was kind and gave me and the Club a little shout out from the podium. While that was awesome, what I really found motivational was learning that LaShaunda is reaching her full potential as a productive, caring, responsible citizen.
All of those tough days on the front line were worth it. At the end of the graduation ceremony, I actually found myself wondering when/if I might find my way back to the front line some day.
I want to use today’s DonorDreams blog platform to publicly thank LaShaunda for sharing her amazing day with an old friend. It meant more to me than she ever could possibly imagine.
I’m also hoping non-profit professionals who read this blog seek out their non-monetary paydays. They most likely exist all around you and occur more often than you think.
In my opinion, these types of opportunities are what motivates “Nonprofit Nation“.
By the way, if you think these mission-focused events are motivational for people who work for non-profit organizations, please trust me when I say they are equally impactful for donors.
Do you have a non-monetary payday that you’d like to share? Please scroll down and do so in the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Hi, DonorDreams Readers! Hope this week is treating you well! It’s Marissa here, with a great post written by Heather Eddy, President and CEO of KEES: Kristner Eddy Executive Services and Alford Executive Search. While we’ve talked a lot about retaining key employee in the past few posts, today Heather talks about how to plan for when people move on to another opportunity. Succession Planning along with employee retention makes for a strong nonprofit. Thanks again, Heather! Enjoy!
Although this blog has covered retaining employees for the past two posts, sometimes it is time for people to move on, even a revered and beloved leader. How an organization and it’s leadership undertakes this transition says a lot to other employees. It can make a big difference in general employee satisfaction and what might trigger a good employee to leave. A Board may not realize it, but having thoughtful and articulate plans in place about the organizations future (Strategic Plans, Succession Plans, Compensation Plans, Capital plans, etc.) speaks volumes to the general employee base.
Succession Planning is a term used in private and nonprofit sectors (less so with governmental entities) to describe the process that an organization (typically a Board of Directors) undertakes to plan for its next leader. Interestingly, with the term being common in leadership lingo, a limited number of organizations actually have a written Succession Plan. How do we know this? It is a question that we survey groups about frequently. The responses often come back as: maybe, no, I don’t know, yes-we’ve had a few meetings about it, yes-it’s in my head, and my favorite….yes – we talked about it once and someone has the notes somewhere. An idea, wish, intention or concept or does not truly constitute a solid Succession Plan. I find that less than 15% of the nonprofits we interact with have a written Succession Plan that is that is widely understood by organizational leadership (Board and Executives), and could be accessed and implemented with ease. Note – often times the “emergency “plan (what to do when the ED gets hit by a bus or wins the lottery) is confused with the Succession Plan. The two can be related, but are entirely different.
A relevant and ideal Succession Plan should have an overview of the following, with specifics to be filled in at the time certain triggers occur. A Succession Plan should be reviewed every 2 – 3 years if the sitting leader will be there for a while, and every 1 – 2 years as s/he gets closer to natural retirement.
- An overall philosophy of leadership and the role of the Executive leader
- A clear statement of the Board’s role in finding, hiring, evaluating, growing, and changing leadership.
- An ideal timetable for a natural transition process to occur (having a 90-day buffer helps)
- A job description of the current Executive leader and all of the immediate, direct reports.
- An organizational chart, identifying the key functional areas of leadership, and which direct report or other key staff person “back-fills” the top Executive in these functions. Note: this could add another dimension to the plan if all/most of the top leadership is roughly in the same 5-year window of possible retirement and/or the same team has been in place for 15+ years.
- Current thinking (point in time) about the organizations greatest needs in the coming 3 – 5 years. This can be derived from Strategic Planning.
If your organization does not have a written Succession Plan in place, I urge you to have a conversation at the next Board meeting. Try to gain a commitment to invest time in addressing the points above. The Board may not be ready for a full Succession Planning process, but at least document the above six points and make sure the whole Board is on the same page. If the commitment is there to do more….ask the Governance Committee, Executive Committee, or ad hoc Committee to take this on as a special project (60-90 days with 2 – 3 meetings and follow up in between).
We urge you/your organization to not only focus on Succession Planning, but what we call Leadership Transition Planning. This type of planning focuses on how an organization transitions, whether to a new executive leader, an entirely new leadership structure, or growing leaders within the top levels of leadership as the organization grows.
With the enormous workforce transition we will undergo, in all sectors, not just nonprofit, hiring managers (Board’s included) are struggling to find desired talent brings skills to meet current needs, and potential grow with the organization. In some nonprofit sub-sectors, it is anticipated that as many as 20% of the leaders currently at the helm will retire in the coming five years. It is also estimated in those same sub-sectors that, perhaps, at best, 4 – 8% of “ready” next leaders are in place. This upcoming gap is a direct result of nonprofits doing a great job of hiring good talent and getting every bit of expertise they can, but failing to invest in that good talent, to make it great talent. There is an enormous need for organizations to grow and develop talent, at mid and upper levels of management, to meet this potential gap. Does your organization have a leadership development program? If so, please tell us about it in the comments.
Leadership Transition planning helps you define what you have, what you want, what you need/think you need and what is a realistic expectation for the leader(s) at the next phase to meet organizational needs. It then guides you to put that transition in to a timetable, articulate the resources needed (often budget related), and define how you will communicate with internal and external audiences. Based on the type of leadership transition coming up, the timetable and audience focus could be completely different. And, based on the organizational capacity, the ability to invest resources in developing and transitioning leaders varies greatly. Leadership Transition Planning is a process that should be collaborative between the top Executives and the Board. Both leadership groups have a vested interest in the organizations future success, and should work together to ensure the right leader(s) are in place to achieve that success.
While your organization many not face an imminent retirement or departure of its top leader, both Succession and Leadership Transition Planning are essential for the continuity and sustainability of your organization.
Strategic Compensation: An Effective Tool in Recruiting, Promoting and Retaining Highly Qualified Employees
Happy Tuesday! Marissa here! We are continuing our discussion about retaining employees today with a post by Evette Simon, VP of Alford Executive Search. Thanks, to Evette for sharing her expertise with us. Enjoy!
HR system design and a consultative executive-level approach have quickly replaced the traditional philosophy that HR simply serves as an administrative function in support of achieving organizational goals.
The non-profit sector, more than any other industry, has had to quickly make the shift from the philosophy that HR is something that they we HAVE to do, to viewing HR as a strategic partner in organizational development and sustainability.
In an environment where organizations of all types and sizes have begun to recognize that our human resources are among our most valuable and costly assets, attracting and retaining highly skilled employees has become a high-level strategic priority, in order to gain or maintain a competitive advantage.
More than ever before HR practices are being intentionally designed with business outcomes in mind. However, the notion of building strategic compensation systems and policies remain a daunting endeavor for many non-profit organizations due to the lack of trained HR professionals on staff and/or the limited strategic compensation expertise available. As a result, most organizations simply take the best-case default approach of aligning position titles with market surveys and compensating within the reported ranges. And, in many cases, market surveys aren’t used and employment offers are made based on what the compensation of the incumbent in the position at the time of separation or what they were hired at any number of years earlier or even some arbitrarily contrived number in between the two.
Because compensation, whether we like it or not, is usually visible within our organizations, having a written compensation policy that is clearly and consistently communicated throughout the organization is critical toward ensuring that employees understand how compensation decisions are made.
An effective compensation policy will successfully communicate the following:
Internal consistency which highlights and clearly places each job in the organization into an ordered job structure that recognizes the differences in job functions. Placing at a higher level in the structure jobs that require higher degrees of skill and expertise, include more responsibility and more complex tasks, than those jobs requiring less skill, less responsibility and less-complex tasks. Compensation professionals use systematic job analysis and job evaluation to establish pay differentials for each position in the organization.
Market competitiveness refers to the pay practice used most often in compensation policies geared toward attracting and retaining highly qualified employees. In order to determine how the organization’s compensation structure lines up against market competitors, the internal job structure is compared to the competitive external market using compensation surveys. As a result of this analysis, organizations are able to strategically determine whether they wish to lead the market (Market Lead), lag behind the market (Market Lag), or match the market (Market Match).
Many internal and external factors should ultimately play into deciding which market position an organization chooses. An organization might actually choose to lag behind the market for some job categories, lead the market for some and meet the market for others, depending on the internal value placed on specific job categories and the external market conditions for those pools of talent. However, the best practice is to have one market position across the organization. This more equitable philosophy lends itself to internal consistency and is easily justifiable.
Recognizing and rewarding individual contributions should be a key component of an effective compensation policy. Similar to the process for establishing internal consistency using job analysis and evaluation to distinguish the differences between two job functions, attention should be given to the fact that no two employees perform the same job equally, nor do they usually possess the same credentials or expertise. Therefore, when completed, effective pay structures should include defined ways and rationale for recognizing and rewarding employee contributions in order to promote the retention of valued employees.
Other structural components of compensation policies include pay grades and pay ranges. As another outgrowth of the job analysis and evaluation processes, pay grades are used to group job functions determined to have similar compensable factors and, pay ranges outline the minimum, maximum and midpoint pay rates for each pay grade. This allows HR professionals and managers to more consistently apply the organization’s pay policy.
Strategic compensation practices, like every other component of human resource management, must also take into account all of the legal and compliance related factors associated with employee recruitment, compensation and separation. Therefore compensation professionals must also consider all of these factors as part of the high-level strategic process.
Once legally compliant compensation policy and structures are in place, managers and other HR functions will be able to use them as effective tools in recruiting, performance appraisal systems, professional development, labor relations and even terminations.
How does your organization retain highly qualified employees? Let us know in the comments!
Hi, DonorsDreams Readers! It’s me, Marissa. I’m covering for the blog for Erik as he sails the ocean blue on a well-deserved vacation. Today’s post was written by Denise Benages, an HR professional for over 16 years. She shares with us best practices for retaining employees in an ever changing job market. Thanks, Denise!
Once upon a time, people stayed at their first job, moved up the ladder and received a gold watch when they retired. How very Ward Cleaver!
Welcome to 2015, where the average worker will have 12-15 jobs in their lifetime. Ten of those jobs will be held before the age of forty. So how is a nonprofit to function in the land of no golden watches? Well, we must ask ourselves, how do we retain employees.
First, let me ask you, do you have a retention strategy? In a 2013 survey of nonprofits, 90% did not have formal retention strategy. However, the majority of them did have informal retention strategies. Let’s talk about how you make an informal retention policy into a formal one.
Your first step is to evaluate your policies. What are you doing to keep your employees? What is your turnover rate? Are you turning over staff in a particular department? These questions will lead you to discover what issues your nonprofit faces when it comes to retaining employees.
Remember that statistic about having 10 jobs before the age of 40? It should not be surprising that entry and mid-level staff were reported to be challenging to retain (30% and 40%). It is interesting to note that the numbers were much lower at the experienced-level (17%) and executive level (only 4%). Yet, most HR training dollars are spent on leadership training rather than job specific or business skills training. When surveyed on staffing challenges, 49% of non-profits are concerned with retaining entry level staff.
Retention is extremely important to nonprofits because turnover costs can be as much as 50-60% of an employee’s annual salary when you consider the cost of recruiting, onboarding, accrued time off, workflow disruption, lost clients and replacement costs. So it’s imperative that we look at why employees leave and how we can monitor this.
Here are some of the most common reasons employees leave their current positions:
- Dissatisfaction – To examine this, immerse yourself in each department. Pay attention and monitor the feeling in the office. Conduct exit interviews to determine why people were unhappy at your non-profit.
- A Better Opportunity – Employees are always looking to move up, you will not be able to stop some of this turnover. But you can ensure they know you have a career path for them. Build goals into the review process, so employees are clear of what they need to do to move forward. Employees only look when they don’t see their next step.
- Following Their Map of Success – Some employees know they have do to A, B & C to get to the next place in their career. Their current position may have been a stepping stone from the beginning. Turnover can be stopped before an employee is even hired. Dig deeper in your interview to see where an employee aspires to be. If their dream is not available in your organization, they might not be the right candidate.
- They Just Quit – This is the most important turnover to dig into because they are reacting to something negative in your organization. You need find out if it’s the job, harassment, bad management, skipped over for a promotion or any other HR situation. You may not be able, or want, to save that employee but it’s important that you resolve a systemic issue before you replace the employee.
We touched on why people leave, but it’s equally as important to know why they stay. You would be surprised to hear it’s not the money.
- Job Satisfaction – Employees need to enjoy their work and believe their job is important. Give them feedback on how they are doing and how it’s helping the company. Tell them randomly during the year, not just in a review.
- Employer/Employee Relationship – It’s imperative for employees to have good communication with their supervisor and have a good working relationship. They don’t have to be friends, but need to be considerate and fair. Make sure your team is trained on how to deal with employees. Observe their interactions and coach them.
- Training and Development – Your investment in them shows them loyalty and commitment. They will give you the same in return.
- Work/Life Balance – Your organization may not be able to be competitive with salary, but you can also compensate staff with paid time off, flexibility in schedule, or telecommuting.
While retaining employees might seem challenging; the good news is the most important thing you can do to retain your employees is to listen to them. If you do that, you have all of the answers right in front of you and may be able to hand out a gold watch or two.
Starting next week, this non-profit blogger is running off for a few weeks of a well-deserved cruise through the Panama Canal. But never fear! Your DonorDreams blog community will continue providing quality content to help you generate ideas to improve the organizational capacity of your non-profit organization. In my absence, Marissa Garza will take the wheel and ensure everything runs smoothly. (That’s right . . . Marissa is the same person who wrote non-profit tech articles a few years ago for DonorDreams. Welcome back, Marissa!)
We’ve lined up some fun guest bloggers while I am floating around the Caribbean on my vacation. Here is some of what you have to look forward to while I’m gone:
- Lisa Green is an aspiring blogger who will write about “The 6 Questions Nonprofits Need to Ask Before Hiring an Event Manager”
- Denise Benages of HR Midwest and blogger at Don’t Bite The Apple will blog about staff retention strategies
- Evette Simon of Alford Executive Search will write about compensation and how it factors into creating a strong team
- Heather Eddy of Alford Executive Search will follow-up Evette’s post with an article on leadership and succession planning
- Marissa Garza will thrill you with another one of her technology posts
- At the end of the month, I’ll return with a “call for submissions” post because DonorDreams is hosting the Nonprofit Blog Carnival in May
April is shaping up to be a fun month with an important focus on human resources related issues!
Rest assured that I will be thinking of you while I decompress and recharge my batteries on vacation. While most of May’s blog posts are already mapped out, I promise to publish a “special edition” with pictures from my various stops in Aruba, Columbia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Cabo San Lucas.
Enjoy the next few weeks, and as always thank you for your readership.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
If you Google the definition of “Pandora’s Box,” the all-knowing internet oracle says the term means: “a process that generates many complicated problems as the result of unwise interference in something.” I love this expression, and I used it a few months ago when talking to the board president of a non-profit organization who was describing to me how they were handling a complaint about the agency’s executive director.
In a nutshell, the board president in question was approached by a staff member with a complaint. The board president asked the staff member to put the complaint in writing and agreed to take it to the entire board of directors.
While on face value, this might make sense because the executive director works for the board. I believe this opens the flood gates, and anytime staff have an issue they will now likely circumvent the executive director and go straight to the board.
Don’t undercut your executive director like this. You might as well fire them if this is how you’re going to manage them.
With that being said, I bet there are many of you who are wondering what the right course of action should be. After all, it is a fiduciary responsibility of the board to hire and manage the executive director.
Here is how I suggest the board handles all staff complaints pertaining to the executive director:
- Immediately ascertain if the executive director has done something ILLEGAL, UNETHICAL or VIOLATES AN AGENCY POLICY.
- If the issue rises to the level of illegal, unethical or policy-related, reach for a bottle of Maalox or Pepto and ask for staff to put it in writing (and if illegal call the police and an emergency board meeting immediately!). Or more importantly, follow the written process if you one.
- If the issue doesn’t rise to this level, then politely turn them around and ask them to try working it out directly with the executive director. Explain that there is a process to follow and it starts with trying to first work it out with the boss. Empathize with their situation and express confidence that it can be worked out. Walk them through your agency’s policy/procedure. Explain the circumstances of when they might submit something to the board in writing after they try to work it out with the executive director (e.g. retaliation, etc). Be transparent. Be genuine. Empathize. But draw the line clearly.
- Circle back around to the executive director. Be transparent about what happened. Encourage them to work things out. Remind them of the importance of staff morale and the power of team. Remind them to stay within the agency’s policy boundaries. Express confidence in their abilities to solve the issue.
- Prepare for the worst case scenario.
Please don’t misread what I’m saying here. I did not just tell board volunteers to wash their hands of staff complaints unless it rises to the level of “illegal, unethical, or policy violation“. What I am saying is . . . not all complaints are equal and the ones that don’t rise to the level of illegal / unethical / policy violation should be handled in a way where you’re not undercutting your executive director.
Because . . .
If you choose to allow staff to circumvent the board’s one employee — the executive director — then you’re opening Pandora’s Box, and I guarantee that you won’t have an executive director for long. You will either fire them or they will quit.
There are some assumptions that I’m making about your agency when writing this blog post such as:
- You have adopted a written whistle blower policy
- You’ve adopted written policies defining and prohibiting retaliation
- Your employee handbook contain a written process outlining a complaint process and open door policy
- You’ve adopted a written ethics policy
Let me bottom line this complicated issue:
- You don’t want to undercut your executive director
- You don’t want to abdicate your fiduciary responsibilities to supervise the executive director and ensure the agency is well-run
- You want to think these things out in advance — proactive and not reactive
- You want written policies and procedures in place and you want to follow them (don’t be arbitrary or capricious in enforcing the rules)
- You don’t want to put the agency in a position to get sued
Is that it?
LOL . . . yeah . . . that’s it. Good luck!
Since we can all learn from each other. Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Please also feel free to point your fellow non-profit professionals and board volunteers to awesome samples and online resources to assist them in managing risk.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC