Board Disengagement in Four Scenes
Guest Blog Post
By Dani Robbins reprinted with permission from Nonprofit Evolution blog
I received a call from a old friend (we used to be real close :-) ) who served on the board of a very prominent organization. This is the story she told me. I share it with you to both illustrate how easy it is to disengage good board members and how important it is to institute and follow good process.
Scene 1: The Invitation
The call came inviting my friend to serve on a very high profile board. She was a little surprised yet also very excited. She asked about expectations; she asked about commitment; she asked about orientation. She received what she considered to be reasonable answers and was told that a lunch to answer all her questions would be set. She said yes.
The lunch was never set. She was voted on the Board. The orientation was never held. She attended a retreat that set committee goals for the year.
Scene 2: Year 1, Chairmanship
My friend was asked to serve as a committee chair and began immediately working to build a committee and meet the goals from the retreat. Every suggestion she made was shot down by the executive director. Every recommendation the committee made, with the executive director in the room, was challenged — and sometimes later changed — by the executive director. My friend, who talked to the executive director every time it happened, got to the point that she realized she was spending significant political capital, and consistently alienating the executive director, who had also been a friend, to accomplish something that no one else wanted. She finished her one year term as chair and gave up the role.
She thought the executive director was so happy to have her out of the role that it never occurred to him to ask why. It’s possible the remainder of the executive committee felt the same way; they didn’t ask either.
Scene 3: Year 2, Gamesmanship
My friend continued to attend board meetings, missing only one or two, yet every suggestion she made in the room, usually based on best practices in the field, was challenged by members of the executive committee. The suggestions she offered were later introduced by other committees as their own work.
My friend felt alienated and disillusioned, and while she loved the organization, she didn’t love her experience in governing it.
Scene 4: Year 3, Disengagement
The next retreat was set and a board survey was sent out. She was honest with her concerns and her experience. She shared that she was troubled that the board didn’t have a strategic plan and hadn’t set any goals for the executive director. She shared that it felt like the organization was governed by a select few and the rest of the board were just in the room. She voiced her concerns within the bounds of the survey questions.
The retreat agenda came out; it didn’t reflect any of the issues she raised. My friend described it as a meeting to set strategies for goals that did not exist, or at a minimum had not been communicated.
She continued to attend meetings and participate marginally. A few months before her term expired she sent a note thanking the executive committee for the opportunity and asking to not be considered for a 2nd term.
She may be one of the few board members in the history of this high profile organization, with its high profile board, who declined a second term.
No one asked why.
The Scenes that Didn’t Happen
My friend didn’t share her frustrations outside of her conversations with the executive director when she was a committee chair and inside the boardroom. She did share her suggestions within the boardroom but (possibly inaccurately) felt from the responses she got to her ideas that there would be nothing to gain from sharing her frustrations.
The executive director, with whom she did meet occasionally, never asked her how she was enjoying her term. There was no conversation about her goals for service and if those goals had been met.
The board chair never called to check-in. Neither did the board development chair. There was no assessment of her service or to gauge her opinion of board process.
The Lessons for the Rest of Us
Board disengagement happens while good, dedicated, people are focused on other things. It’s rarely intentional, and it is usually quite detrimental. It’s what stands in the way of our boards, and therefore our agencies, fulfilling our missions, which would be more easily accomplished if everyone was on point, on the team and moving the organization forward.
There are a few ways to avoid it.
Talk to your board members –- the ones you serve with or serve! Check in with each of them individually to see how they are enjoying their experience. If they have goals, find out if you are meeting them? If they’re frustrated, find out if there are things you can do to address their issues? Find out if there are opportunities to improve board process.
Information is information. Ask the questions. Get the answers. Once you have the information you can decide what to do with it. It’s what we do with the information presented to us that separates the good leaders from the great!
Have you served on a board where you felt marginalized and ineffective? What did you do? What would you have told my friend? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.
Approximately 14 years ago, I was a young and eager executive director of a non-profit organization in Elgin, Illinois. While I had already worked in a number of different capacities in the non-profit sector, it was the first time I had held the job of “executive director.” Thinking back to that time in my life is where I pull my inspiration for the May 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival.
As a new executive director, everything was new and there were days I found my head spinning, especially when I thought about which metrics and indicators I needed to watch with regard to my agency’s health.
However, I very clearly remember the day when all of that stopped. It happened after a Board Development committee meeting, and one of my board members pulled me aside. He asked me how things were going.
We talked about the organization’s health and how I knew what I thought I knew. It was at that moment he decided to play Oprah and pointed me in the direction of the following two books written by Frederick Reichheld:
- The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value
- Loyalty Rules: How Today’s Leaders Build Lasting Relationships
Just to give you a small taste of what these two books are all about, here is a short quote from chapter one of “The Loyalty Effect“:
“. . . businesses that concentrate on finding and keeping good customers, productive employees, and supportive investors continue to generate superior results. Loyalty is by no means dead. It remains one of the great engines of business success. In fact, the principles of loyalty — and the business strategy we call loyalty-based management — are alive and well at the heart of every company with an enduring record of high productivity, solid profits, and steady expansion.”
Not to be too dramatic, but that informal book club assignment changed my point of view on all things pertaining to the non-profit sector. After reading those books, my personal non-profit management litmus test usually centered around this simple question:
“What would Betrys do?”
As you’ve probably guessed, Betrys is our 13-year-old Welch Terrier who is featured in all of the pictures you see in this blog post.
This brings me to the May 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival . . .
With all of the talk about donor loyalty in recent years, I thought dedicating an entire Nonprofit Blog Carnival theme to the broader idea of LOYALTY might be fun.
So, calling all bloggers! Please write and submit a post this month focused on how non-profit organizations can and should be building loyalty among any of the following stakeholder groups:
- board members
- social media networks
If you can identify another type of stakeholder group with which you believe a non-profit organization needs to build loyalty, then please feel free to blog about that, too. This is intentionally a broad topic. Feel free to get creative. All I ask is that you include in your blog post strategic or tactical suggestions on how to build loyalty so that our collective readership can walk away from our content with lots of new ideas.
To help get into the spirit, I will dedicate all of the content at DonorDreams blog in May 2014 to the idea of building loyalty.
If you couldn’t tell from the title of this post, I am a dog lover. Is there anyone or anything in this world that embodies LOYALTY more than dogs?
At the end of the month, there will be difficult decisions made about which submissions get published and which ones end up on the cutting room floor. If you can incorporate some reference to the canine community in your Nonprofit Blog Carnival submission, then you will get bonus points. :-)
So, I’m sure some of you are wondering what I mean.
A reference to the canine community could be as simple as working your dog (or someone else’s famous dog like Spuds MacKenzie, Snoopy or Lassie) into your post. It could be more complicated like the time when John Greco centered an entire organizational development blog post titled “Puppy Perspective” around his dogs.
Good luck and regardless of whether or not you get a dog into your post, please have some fun with this month’s carnival!
How to submit your work for consideration?
You are welcome to write your blog post anytime during the month of May (or even submit a post you may have previously published); however, I must receive your submission by the end of the day on Monday, May 26, 2014:
How do you submit? Simply email the following information to nonprofitcarnival[at]gmail[dot]com:
- Your name
- The URL of your post
- A two of three sentence summary of your post
We will publish the May 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 right here at DonorDreams blog.
Go visit April’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival
In April, the carnival was hosted by Nancy Schwartz at ” her blog — Getting Attention!” The theme was “The Work Behind Your Work: Your Methods and Wants for Nonprofit Blog Carnival“. She asked bloggers to consider the following questions:
- the methods and tools you use to stay focused, productive and happy on the job
- or the barrier that keeps you from getting there
If you’re interested in reading what some very smart and talented bloggers had to say about this Nonprofit Blog Carnival theme, click here.
Do you want to become a “Friend of the Carnival” and receive email blasts twice a month with reminders about the Carnival? Click here if you want to receive those reminders.
In a tip of my hat to the Nonprofit Blog Carnival that I hosted last May, I leave you with this Dr. Seuss-inspired quotation to inspire your much anticipated submission:
“You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go . . .”
I am very much looking forward to see what you decide to do and where you decide to take this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Yesterday, I attended my first Fox West Philanthropic Network meeting in a number of months. I forgot how much I love those networking and professional development meetings. The program topic was “Volunteer Recruitment & Management” and featured staff and volunteers from a number of Fox Valley agencies, who spoke eloquently about their experiences.
To open the panel discussion, Bob Hotz from American City Bureau shared the following four recent trends that he sees in volunteerism:
- There is a trend toward wanting to help with a specific program or project. This contrasts with just general support of both time and money. This seems tied to wanting to experience that my contribution of resources (time or money) will have the impact I am looking for.
- There is a trend toward time-defined or episodic volunteering. (e.g. a day of service or a 5K run, does not tie up months of time or commit me to something long-term)
- There is a trend toward contributing expertise. (e.g. More than just time, people want to feel that their skill sets are being put to good use.)
- There is a trend toward incorporating a learning component into the volunteer experience. (e.g. It is not only what a volunteer contributes, but also what they learn and get out of it.)
Bob used this framework as a springboard for the panel to jump into topics such as:
- volunteer recruitment
- orientation and training
- volunteer evaluation
- generation differences including needs and approaches to working with these different age groups
For those of you looking for additional resources on these topics, here are a few links you may want to investigate:
- Whitepaper from HandsOn Connect
- Wild Apricot: Getting Started With Volunteer Recruitment
- Volunteer Front: Attracting Millennials
- Volunteer Hub: [Guide] Donor & Volunteer Cross-Pollination
For those of you who want to have a discussion about these issues, please scroll down and use the comment box to pose questions or share your thoughts and experiences on these topics.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
From time-to-time, we all need to have a difficult conversation with someone. It could be an employee, board volunteer, donor, collaborative partner, or even a spouse or loved-one. I was in such a position a few days ago, and needless to say it didn’t go very well. In the subsequent days, I spent a lot of time licking my wounds and thinking about what I could’ve done differently. So, I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts with the readers at DonorDreams blog and hope you’ll also share your thoughts and experiences.
Setting the stage
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. The following are just a few examples of difficult conversations I see non-profit professionals having every day:
- correcting poor performance or disciplinary action with an employee
- engaging a board member in a discussion about poor attendance at meetings or following through on things they’ve committed to do for the agency
- speaking with a donor who spontaneously donated — before your fundraising volunteers could schedule an appointment to visit — and made a contribution of less than what you were planning to ask them to give
- talking with a funder about a set of grant deliverables that your agency agreed to achieve but might now be having difficulty achieving
I’m sure we could identify many more of these types of conversations without even trying very hard. Won’t you please share?
What not to do
As I look back upon the many difficult conversations I’ve had in my professional life, I’ve made many mistakes and some of those mistakes I continue to make over and over again for some dumb reason. Here are just a few of those missteps:
- I procrastinate and put off having those conversations
- I obsess and over-think those conversations, essentially having different version of those conversations in my head prior to the actual conversation
- I try to set the stage with a pre-discussion email outlining the issues that need to be discussed
- I get emotional and take things personally
- I wear my emotions on my sleeve
- I get entrenched in my opinions and don’t leave any room for alternate viewpoints
I could also go on and on with developing this list of mistakes. I’ve made so many of them throughout the years. I know you probably have a few things to add here. Won’t you please share?
I’ve done some research into how I can do better in the future with engaging others in these type of conversations. Here are just a few of the best practices that resonate with me:
- Don’t have this conversation in your head before having it in-person because over-thinking creates anxiety and frames issues that might not even come up
- Stay away from email because people read tone into written communications that you may not intend . . . but perception is reality
- Go into the discussion prepared to: a) hear the other person and b) possibly change your mind
- Encourage questions to promote understanding
- Restate what you hear the other person saying in order to make sure you’re hearing them correctly
As with the previous section of this post, I know there are many more best practices. Won’t you please share your best practices?
When you Google the search words “having difficult conversations,” there are a ton of great resources. Here are just a few that I’ve found helpful:
- Judy Ringer: We Have To Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist For Difficult Conversations
- Harvard Business Review: Tips On Having Difficult Conversations
- Lean In: Managing Difficult Conversations
Without sharing the ugly details about one of your difficult conversations, please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. Share resources that you’ve found useful. Share things that you’ve learned not to do. Share things that you always try to do. Life is too short . . . we can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Decision are Made by those who Show Up
By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog
My community had a paltry 10% of eligible voters turn out to vote on Election Day. My neighbor said that any vote that didn’t have at least 40% of the eligible voters voting should be thrown out. But, of course and for good reason, it doesn’t work like that. Elections – and most other things – are decided by those who show up.
Now you may be thinking: “That’s nice Dani, but this is a nonprofit blog. What’s this got to do with non profits?” Everything; it works the same way for agencies. Many states ban proxy voting and require email votes to be 100% unanimous. Assuming you have a quorum, the decisions made by the board will, primarily, all be made by those in the room.
That means it not only matters who you elect to serve as Board members, it matters which of them chose to show up to meetings. It’s hard enough to figure out how a large group of smart people are going to vote; it’s even harder if you don’t know who will be in the room. As such, you need to know who’s planning to attend every meeting.
“Good Execs do their homework before the meeting and usually know how people are going to vote before the meeting begins……which doesn’t ensure they will do so.” (Board Meetings Gone Wrong) Even when you do your homework, and think you know how they will vote, a parking lot conversation can change someone’s mind.
The foundation for ensuring you have the right people in the room starts long before a board meeting is scheduled. It starts and also ends with the Board Development Committee.
When you are recruiting new prospects, unless you are willing to change the meeting time, those who tell you they cannot come to the meetings should not be considered as board members. Most agencies already carry one or two board members who consistently miss meetings; don’t add to that count.
The agenda that is set should also reflect, to some degree, the behavior of those expected to be in the room. This is most applicable to consent agendas. When you consider if a consent agenda is right for your board, consider the board members who most often attend. Do they typically read materials in advance or in the room? If they read them in advance, consent agendas can allow more time for robust generative discussions. If they read them in the room, they may not have time to read all the materials and may be voting on things about which they are not entirely clear. If that is the case, consent agendas can create issues of liability for your agency.
If you don’t have enough board members show up, the ones that do will not have their votes counted if you do not have a quorum. Quorum issues are the best indicators of disengaged board. As mentioned in Engaging the Board “If you have consistent issues with having enough Board members in the room to make decisions, I recommend you take a look at how your board was built and how it is being developed.”
Finally, it behooves you to consider removing disruptive or disengaged Board members. For instructions on how, click here. It is a difficult option to consider, but each of our roles in nonprofit leadership requires us to do what’s best for the organization. If the work of the board becomes focused on defending or covering for an inappropriate board member, other more relevant work is not being accomplished.
We can’t always control who shows up, but we can control who is invited to serve. If we build the board intentionally and thoughtfully, it is far more likely that those who show up have the capacity, the wisdom and the experience to appropriately govern our organizations, and our organizations have the resources, impact and reach to change our world.
What’s been your experience? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.
Doing the Math; Not Necessary!
By John Greco
Originally published on March 9, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
“I regard it in fact as the great advantage of the mathematical technique that it allows us to describe, by means of algebraic equations, the general character of a pattern even where we are ignorant of the numerical values which will determine its particular manifestation.”
Say what? Algebraic equations? Where might this be going?!?
Here goes: we can equate certain actions, or conditions, or results — without applying numerical rigor — and yet produce a meaningful, insightful, valuable answer.
I’m going to attempt to do Friedrich proud… While my finance, accounting, and engineering friends might cringe, I am going to pose a couple of equations that I think are incredibly meaningful in describing organizational life, yet they require no calculation whatsoever. I call them my “engagement equations.”
First up: Involvement = Commitment.
The general idea here is that as we involve people in diagnosing and solving problems, their commitment to carrying out the resulting course of action grows stronger. Hence, more involvement means increased commitment.
That’s the proactive application of the equation. The reactive application might be when we see low commitment, we should suspect low involvement. And the prescriptive: if leaders want a more committed workforce, they should first seek to involve the workforce in diagnosing why there is low commitment!
Bottom line, we can equate commitment with involvement and be pretty confident it’s not a false equivalence.
I promised two, so next up: Performance = Freedom.
This one’s about the length of the leash. It prompts us to consider that when an individual or team is performing well, we should allow them more space, more autonomy, more freedom. We might get even more performance …
And, of course, there is the flip side: when performance is slipping, more attention might be warranted. Narrow the range, focus on the action.
(I feel compelled to counter a possible negative perception of this last point by noting that isn’t it a very good thing if a manager sees when an associate or team is struggling, and at the right time and in the right way enters the picture and provides just the right amount of help to get back on the right track? Less freedom is not always a bad thing!)
Shifting our attention to the other side of the equal sign, freedom — autonomy — when earned by performing, can move performance to yet another level; and when there is no freedom, it might very well be thecause of the lagging performance, and not the effect.
Before I close, I can’t help but point out a bit of irony I see when looking at these two engagement equations together… One says “come closer, get involved” whereas the other suggests “I should leave you alone; you’re good!”
And what about the synergy? Involvement equals commitment can driveperformance, and performance equals freedom can enhance commitment!
So there you go, my “engagement equations” … which, honestly, factor into a lot of my work when seeking to improve organizational effectiveness. And I thought I’d never apply that algebra class in real life…
I look forward to seeing the ones that you’ve run across!
Lastly, in closing, one more — a bonus! — a pretty well known non-mathematical equation, presented in song! from none other than Sir Paul McCartney and his Beatle buddies —
Jerry’s Trip to Abilene
By John Greco
Originally published on March 15, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
That July afternoon in Coleman, Texas was particularly hot — 104 degrees according to the Walgreen’s Rexall’s thermometer. In addition, the wind was blowing fine-grained Texas topsoil through the house. But the afternoon was still tolerable; even potentially enjoyable. A fan was stirring the air on the back porch; there was cold lemonade; and finally, there was entertainment. Dominoes. Perfect for the conditions. The game requires little more physical exertion than an occasional mumbled comment, “Shuffle ‘em,” and an unhurried movement of the arm to place the tiles in their appropriate positions on the table. All in all, it had the makings of an agreeable Sunday afternoon in Coleman. That is, until my father-in-law suddenly said, “Let’s get in the car and go to Abilene and have dinner at the cafeteria.”
I thought, “What, go to Abilene? Fifty-three miles? In this dust storm and heat? And in an unconditioned 1958 Buick?”
But my wife chimed in with, “Sounds like a great idea. I’d like to go. How about you Jerry?” Since my own preferences were out of step with the rest, I replied, “Sounds good to me,” and added, “I just hope your mother wants to go.”
“Of course I want to go,” said my mother-in-law. “I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
So into the car and off to Abilene we went. My predictions were fulfilled. The heat was brutal. Perspiration had cemented a fine layer of dust to our skin by the time we arrived. The cafeteria’s food could serve as a first-rate prop in an antacid commercial.
Some four hours and 106 miles later, we returned to Coleman, hot and exhausted. We silently sat in front of the fan for a long time. Then, to be sociable and to break the silence, I dishonestly said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?”
No one spoke.
Finally, my mother-in-law said, with some irritation, “Well, to tell you the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much and would rather have stayed here. I just went along because the three of you were so enthusiastic about going. I wouldn’t have gone if you all hadn’t pressured me into it.”
I couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean ‘you’all?” I said. Don’t put me in the ‘you’all’ group. I was delighted to be doing what we were doing. I didn’t want to go. I only went to satisfy the rest of you. You’re the culprits.”
My wife looked shocked. “Don’t call me a culprit. You and Daddy and Mama were the ones who wanted to go. I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to go out in heat like that.”
Her father entered the conversation with one word: “Shee-it.” He then expanded on what was already clear: “Listen, I never wanted to go to Abilene. I just thought you might be bored. You visit so seldom I just wanted to be sure you enjoyed it. I would have preferred to play another game of dominoes and eat the leftovers in the icebox.”
After the outburst of incrimination, we all sat back in silence. Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who — of our own volition — had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in furnace-like heat and a dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go. To be concise, we’d done just the opposite of what we wanted to do. The whole situation simply didn’t make sense.
— Jerry Harvey, The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management.
My first exposure to this story was as I was unknowingly about to experience it…
Three colleagues and I were all out-of-towners in Memphis for business. After a stressful day at work we had just had a nice dinner. While leaving the restaurant Don suggested “You guys want to continue our discussion while we drive around Memphis a bit? Jude responded with a lukewarm “okay;” I said I’m up for it, even though I was tired and wanted some down time. Then mild-mannered, soft-spoken Laura chimed in with “sounds like we might be taking a trip to Abilene …”
I didn’t get the reference.
Thankfully, Don knew exactly what she meant, and we went back to our respective hotel rooms for the evening.
The lesson never has left me.
That might be because I have since seen teams of smart and committed people going on their own trips to Abilene… and some of these teams included me. None of them, quite obviously, included Laura.
Yes; I have been in Abilene-bound meetings and I have been on Abilene-bound teams. Have you as well? Have you seen some of these trips being taken, and perhaps you might admit your participation as well? … Odd, isn’t it?
Odd, unsatisfying, and unhelpful.
There’s a powerful social dynamic at play here. I need to bone up on what exactly that is, but, for now, I just know that I do not want to take any more trips to Abilene.
Last week I was out to lunch with two male non-profit friends in downtown Chicago when the topic of women board volunteers came up. This happens from time-to-time, and when it does I always bite my tongue because I tend to have strong opinions on this subject. So, I took a deep breath and prepared for what I assumed was going to be one of those “difficult and uncomfortable conversations“. Boy oh boy . . .was I wrong (and pleasantly surprised).
Let me start by explaining what I mean by “I have strong opinions . . .” The fact of the matter is that my opinions are sexist (at least I think they are). When I am engaged in conversations about non-profit board development and I’m feeling bold, I like to say, “If you want lots of discussion in the boardroom about what ‘should’ happen, then recruit a lot of men to serve on your board because they will talk a subject to death. If you want something done, recruit some women because they are the ‘do-ers’ of our society.”
A good friend of mine would respond to this by saying, “All generalizations, including this one, are incorrect.”
So, I usually shy away from sharing this opinion because:
- It feels like a sexist thought
- It has gotten me in trouble in the past and sparked heated discussions
- The “all generalizations” comment is usually right on target
Let’s fast forward to my lunch conversation in downtown Chicago last week as I prepared for a lunch discussion that I assumed was going down the wrong road.
The first words out of one guy’s mouth were positive and progressive. He shared a story about the women on his board being extraordinarily active and engaged. The other guy talked about wanting to develop what used to be called in the old days a “women’s auxiliary” (and he was calling a Women’s Board). As I shook my head in amazement at the surprising turn this conversation quickly took, the most amazing thing happened. One of the guys validated what I keep referring to as “my sexist opinion” by pointing to research data that he just read about in the OpEd pages of the New York Times on October 23, 2013.
I couldn’t believe my ears, and I asked my lunch partners to please forward me that editorial column.
It arrived the next day in my email inbox. It almost looked like that one special Christmas present that you most prized and treasured as a child (and in the spirit of A Christmas Story read this as me saying that email was the equivalent of an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle).
The editorial was titled “Twitter, Women and Power,” and it was about the all male boardroom at Twitter, which was just a few weeks from launching its IPO on Wall Street.
I strongly encourage everyone who has any role in your non-profit organization’s board development to read this article. It is definitely worth the click! However, for those of you working with very little time today, here are a few of the major points from the article:
- Domestic companies that have women board members earn a higher rate of return on invested capital
- International companies with women on their boards earn a surprisingly higher amount of operating capital
- During the recent government shutdown, it was our nation’s female legislators who were at the forefront of brokering a deal
After reading this New York Times editorial piece by Nicholas Kristof, I now feel empowered enough to admit that I think women are better fundraising volunteers than their male counterparts. (Uh-oh . . . that little voice inside my head is telling me to shut-up again.)
Does your agency have enough women in the boardroom? How does your board development committee ensure gender balance? What has been your experience on this issue? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and opinions.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Sometimes I hear something that hits me just right, and it takes days to get it out of my head. This happened on Tuesday during the Fox West Philanthropic Network’s Philanthropy Day luncheon. The keynote speaker, Dani Robbins, was talking about the different modes of board governance and the importance of facilitating more strategic and generative discussions in the boardroom. Doing so will result in a more engaged board.
Easy as that! Right?
Well, that little voice inside my head started screaming at me. It was saying, “Whoaaaaa! Can strategic and generative discussions be done with any old board members? Or does it take a certain type of board volunteer?”
So, I raised my hand and interrupted Dani’s keynote address. (Sorry, Dani!)
I was half expecting her to say that everyone is capable of engaging in these higher order discussions. I was also expecting her to put the responsibility back on the person(s) who facilitate those boardroom discussions to get the most out of the diversity of people sitting around the table.
However, I got an unexpected answer.
Dani suggested that board volunteers who are “strategic thinkers” will have an easier time making the transition from traditional fiduciary modes of governance to more strategic and generative modes.
I suspect this means for many non-profit organizations, who want to make this adjustment to governance, that some thought needs to be put into adding more strategic thinkers to their board recruitment prospects lists.
Once I arrived at this conclusion, I got a mental picture of a committee meeting with board governance volunteers going through their prospect identification and evaluation exercises focused on finding strategic thinkers. As this mental picture became clearer, lots of questions flooded into my head including:
- What does a strategic thinker look and sound like?
- Where do strategic thinkers live, work and play?
- How easy will it be for board governance committees to do this work, especially when most committees (in my experience) shortcut the cultivation and evaluation process and go straight from identification to recruitment?
As I normally do when issues like this start bothering me, I open up my internet browser and go to Google. ;-)
I quickly found myself reading a post on CEB Blogs titled “5 Characteristics of Strategic Thinkers“. Here are those characteristics:
- Open yourself to perspectives from multiple sources
- Incorporate both logic and emotion into your thinking
- Seek options beyond today’s reality
- Question both the familiar and the to-be-determined
- Accept open issues
If you’re scratching your head while reading this list and asking “what does THAT mean,” then click the link and read the CEB Blog post. It really is quite good. If you want to learn more, then I suggest you start Googling around. ;-) You also might want to click here and start with this interesting Wikipedia page on strategic thinking.
Let me bottom line what I’m thinking for you this morning.
- This isn’t as simple as changing some of the criteria in your gap assessment tool
- These characteristics are more subtle than questions of age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, fundraising experience, etc
- Only people who know or work closely with board prospects know whether or not they are strategic thinkers, which puts a spotlight on who is serving on your board governance committee
- Identifying strategic thinkers for your board recruitment process will require more time spent cultivating and evaluating prospects and less jumping straight from identification to recruitment
What is standing in your agency’s way of transforming its boardroom discussions from fiduciary to more strategic and generative modes of governance? What are you doing to over come those obstacles? Is your board governance committee approaching its job differently when it considers this question? If so, how?
Please use the comment box below to share your thought and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month (or Thursday as is the case this month) about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on Amazon.com.
Board Meetings Gone Wrong
By Dani Robbins
Boards meetings can quickly go from productive to destructive in any number of ways. The following are just a few lessons I’ve learned throughout the years and thought board volunteers might benefit from reading:
The morning after is too late
I cannot tell you the number of times in my career that a Board member has called me the morning after a board meeting appalled by something the Board voted to approve the night before, at a meeting they themselves attended. I can absolutely tell you the number of times those very same Board members have voiced their objections in the room: zero!
The next morning is too late. If you do not like the motion that is on the table, it is not only your right to object out loud and on the record, it’s your obligation.
Sometimes individual Board members come up with wacky (read: dangerous) ideas. When those ideas become motions that get seconded is when they go from wacky to possible. Motions that have no second die, and so do the ideas that spawned them.
Motions that are seconded prompt the chair to call for a discussion. If you are uncomfortable with the motion that is on the table, I implore you to speak. Silence is acquiesce. It is usually too late (and much harder) to address something after a vote has been concluded.
When you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there
No written agenda — or an agenda that isn’t followed — practically guarantees a long, meandering meeting that will only serve to frustrate those in the room, but won’t accomplish much beyond that. It’s also likely that such a meeting will not produce formal votes or minutes that capture what the Board has committed to accomplishing.
No strategic plan works the same way. In the absence of a plan, you will have a lot of people working on a lot of things that may or may not align because the Board has not articulated and voted upon a formal direction.
If everyone’s in charge, no one’s in charge
Boards elect Chairs to be in charge (of the Board). It’s awkward and feels weird the first time you chair a meeting, but the weirdness will pass when you begin to lead. However, not leading guarantees the weirdness moves in and sets up shop.
It’s the forth Tuesday at 4; let’s meet!
Don’t have a Board meeting if you have nothing to talk about. If there are no committee reports and no business for the Board to address, cancel the meeting.
At the end of the day, there’s no accounting for crazy
The easiest way to avoid crazy in the board room is to not let crazy on the board. A Board Development plan and a formal process to elect board members will weed out inappropriate board prospects, before they become inappropriate board members.
Time of Death: 2 hours after we started talking about this
Discussion that seems to be spiraling can be stopped by two of my favorite phrases:
- “Let’s call the question” which in Board speak means enough talking, let’s vote.
- “Let’s send this back to committee.” This phrase, when used by the chair, is a declarative statement that the board meeting has devolved into a committee meeting. When used by anyone other than the chair, it is a prompt to the chair that the discussion has gone on too long. In either case, there should be a vote, reflected in minutes, that the motion was be tabled pending the committee’s review and consideration of the issues raised.
What’s the Executive Director’s role?
Good Execs do their homework before the meeting and usually know how people are going to vote before the meeting begins……which doesn’t ensure they will do so.
If a meeting goes off track, Execs can:
- stall by whispering the potential negative impact to the Chair and hoping they agree;
- offer to get more information and bring it back to the board at a future meeting; or
- recommend the motion be sent back to committee prior to being voted upon.
If you have to, board volunteers can object out loud and on the record but be aware that doing so will spend significant political capital. It also may not help, which does not mean you should not do it.
As mentioned in a post titled “Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive,”
“worrying about keeping your job precludes you from doing your job. You have to do what you believe is best, based on your experience, information and training, within the boundaries of your role and the law. We all know that any day could be the day you quit or get fired. That can’t stop you from leading.”