Don't Let Your Board Members Check Their Brains at the Door

I ran across a terrific post today by Lisbeth Cort from the "Nonprofit…

Why Board Members Love Advice Visits


Why do board members love Advice Visits?

Because they find them to be a relief.

If you send your board members out into the community connecting with important people and asking for advice, they'll usually be very happy.

It's because they don't have to do a long, detailed presentation. And they are not comfortable doing that. They don't feel that they know enough.

They ARE comfortable with the idea of seeking advice and input.

After all, they are the community representatives on the board.

It is totally appropriate for your board members to be asking other community leaders for their best thinking on how to achieve the organization’s goals.

They do not have to present a detailed case for support in order to be effective personal advocates for the cause.

Help Your Board Members Become “Door Openers”

What would you MOST love your board members to do? Many nonprofit…

A Board's Legal Responsibilities - Do They Know Them?

Is your board taking enough responsibility for your organization's…

10 Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards


There's so much confusion about the appropriate job of a nonprofit board member.

Lots of boards ask me to help them understand what their work really is. I often refer to a list that BoardSource created a few years ago that has become a reference in our sector.

Here's the list. I'll be discussing these responsibilities in my upcoming blog posts. There's lots to talk about here! What do they really mean? How do you implement them?

Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards From BoardSource

  1. Determine the organization's mission and purpose. It is the board's responsibility to create and review a statement of mission and purpose that articulates the organization's goals, means, and primary constituents served.
  2. Select the chief executive. Boards must reach consensus on the chief executive's responsibilities and undertake a careful search to find the most qualified individual for the position.
  3. Provide proper financial oversight. The board must assist in developing the annual budget and ensuring that proper financial controls are in place.

It's OK to BLATHER, Board Members!

Wow is this idea a hit with board members! Here's the deal - what I find is that board members don't, repeat, don't know what to say about their cause. This may come as a surprise to smart staff members, BUT it's TRUE! (If you don't believe me, then ask one of your board members what they say to people about your organization.) I'll bet that maybe only two or three of your board members have any sense of how they want to share the story of their favorite organization to their friends and the rest of the world. The problem is this:

How to Create a Hard-Hitting Hands-On Planning Session With Your Board

Ah, death by strategic planning! Don't get me started on how AWFUL and what a TIME WASTER strategic planning can be. At least the way we do it in the noprofit sector. I am organizing a "hard-hitting, hands-on planning session" with an organization that has been wandering aimlessly for a few years. They wonder why they can't raise money? Here's the answer - their vision is not juicy enough to get excited about. Here's our agenda for our planning session: (I've changed the names to protect the innocent!)
  • Reconfirm Good Cause's vision and mission.
  • Reach consensus on what Good Cause wants to do in order to implement its vision and mission in the coming year and in the next 5 years. (broad framework here for the longer time period.)
  • Identify strategic directions and set some firm goals around each direction.
  • Answer the question: "how will we know if we have been successful?"
  • Determine the critical success factors that will make or break the new goals.
  • Agree on the board's role in creating success for Good Cause and what each person is committed to doing.
  • Set next steps so that the staff can flesh out a complete operational plan for the coming year.
I had to tell the staff - you can TRUST me that it will not be a WASTE of time. I told her that I will not facilitate a meeting that I wouldn't attend myself. : )

Treat Board Members as Real People With Real Concerns

I think we approach our board members ALL WRONG. We nonprofit folks have this idea that our board members should be devoted to the cause 24/7. And when they place other priorities in front of our to-do list, we are disappointed in the least. I hear a lot of complaining about board members. "My board members won't raise money," the executive director sadly whispers to me. "They won't even open doors," another friend confided. I thought to myself, well do these board members think they are supposed to raise money or not? I could have bet a case of beer that the staff's notion of what board members were supposed to do was not at all the same as the board members' idea of what to do. My nonprofit friends think, "Of course board members are supposed to raise money!" But the board members are probably thinking secretly to themselves, "I'll do anything BUT ask for money." Is there a conflict here? And here's the rub. There is bound to be disappointment on one side or the other unless there is a frank conversation about what you need your board members to do. If you want your board members to help in fundraising - And if you do need them to "raise money," then you have to give them a format for this work. You have to tell them exactly how to do it and make it easy for them. They need a lot of encouragement and hand holding, and that's fine! They aren't the "hardened professionals" that we are. So DO be realistic about your expectations and treat your board members like you'd want to be treated. They are volunteers. Wonderful, well meaning community volunteers. But they are untrained. They are not fundraising professionals. Treat them like the real people they are.

How to Hold a Thankathon for Your Donors

Continuing in my theme of "count your blessings," I'm encouraging…

How Board Members are Helping the Boys and Girls Club Make Their Year-End Goals

I'm just back from the Northeast Leadership Conference of the Boys and Girls Club of America where I spoke yesterday afternoon at their Regional Leadership Conference. IMG_0117(Love those BGCA folks!) Here's what Dovie Prather, the Senior Director of Development Club Resources for BGCA Northeast Region, shared with me about their year-end fundraising strategies. (That's Dovie in the picture right here along with Glen Staron, Vice President, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Northeast Region, and me.) Dovie spends her time coaching board volunteers and staff in the various Boys and Girls Clubs in her region - from Maine to Maryland. She has worked with her share of reluctant board members who don't want to go on fundraising calls. But the staff needs the board members to help if they are going to make their goals. And face-to-face visits are a key part of her year-end fundraising strategy recommendations for her Boys and Girls Clubs. She's counting on those one-on-one calls for $1k or more with key supporters to help the Clubs meet their goals. (See my earlier blog post on Focusing on Individuals to Make Your Year-End Goals). We all know that we can count on individuals this fall far more than we can count on our foundation and corporate supporters. But most of her board members think they won't be successful in face-to-face visits. And she doesn't really want to send the board members out alone anyway. So here's her solution:

Focus on "Friendmaking" to Take the Fear out of Fundraising

Could fundraising be as easy as picking flowers? Maybe! I frequently tell my clients and audiences something rather revolutionary: that I'd rather have a "friend" of my organization than a donor. At first everyone is startled. Then they sit back and consider what it would mean to have "friends" rather than donors. What will friends do for you? They will introduce new people to the cause and bring new friends on board. They will spread the word. They'll help you in any way they can. And when the going gets tough, where are they? They are right there with you at your side. And will your friends contribute money?

How to Evaluate a Board Meeting

It's a great idea to evaluate every meeting or committee meeting that you hold. But you want something painless and simple, that will actually encourage people to participate. One organization I belong to has breakfast speakers once a month, and members pay to come for breakfast and the speaker. This organization sends an email to all attendees immediately after the meeting, asking them to fill out an evaluation survey on SurveyMonkey. They get good, not great, response on the survey. Another board that I serve on solicit evaluations immediately after the meeting. In our board packets, there is a convenient evaluation form to fill out. Here's what's on the form: Share your thoughts about the board meeting: Meeting room? Stick to the agenda? Liked the agenda? Did we miss anything important" People were prepared? Reports clear and helpful? Cordial, team-like discussion? Appropriate use of our time? (meeting began and eneded on time?) Any other comments? Anything we could improve? In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge our organization faces this year? What were your big take-away's from the meeting?

A FIrst Class Strategic Planning Process

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I am the chair of a board governance committee charged with creating a strategic plan this year. (lucky me!). And I am determined to create a compelling, engaging, even exciting planning/visioning process that everyone will actually enjoy! Here's the process that I've sketched out this year: September: 1. Board Self Assessment Survey 2. Set strategic planning timetable and process October: 1. Form Task Force 2. Identify our organization's stakeholders 3. Determine if and how we want to get feedback and input from the stakeholders 4. Create a plan/process for receiving their feedback November board meeting: 1. Discussion of board self assessment survey data and determine any action items that need to be taken 2. Vision discussion with full board - what is our vision for our organization. How much money would it take to achieve our vision? (this is a "high impact - big picture" discussion that can draw additional people and resources to a big vision, as opposed to starting with "what can we accomplish within our resource constraints?") December January and Feb: Focus groups of key players/stakeholders discussing what is our vision and how much money would it take March: WHERE ARE WE? 1. Complete environmental scan at a board meeting. 2. Provide input from the stakeholder focus groups that were conducted in Jan and Feb. 3. Conduct SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. April - May - June: WHERE DO WE WANT TO GO? 1. Based on all info and data gathered to date, create several scenarios of LL's future. 2. Assess each scenario re its pros and cons 3. Determine the right path for LL's future and set goals. July - August - September HOW DO WE GET THERE? 1. Staff and committees create plans for accomplishing the goals. Plans will include objectives, tactics/strategies and who's responsible What do you think? Want to comment?

The Trouble with Strategic Planning

Have you ever seen the energy sink out of a group of people when the words "strategic planning" are mentioned? I've actually seen people shudder! The problem is that board members have had bad experiences with this thing called "strategic planning." They have sat through laborious planning discussions that went nowhere and wasted their time. (The last thing you ever want to do is ask a board member for a full day of their time and then have them feel like it was wasted.) Even if the experience seems helpful at the time, NOTHING ever happens or changes afterward. Why is it that many nonprofit planning retreats end up focusing on the wrong things? The wrong trends. The wrong information. The wrong discussions. This is why people dread "strategic planning" it's a lot of time and talk with little or no results. I once served on a board that held a strategic planning retreat one Saturday from 8am till 5pm. Our icebreaker was to share the name of our favorite pet in a mingle exercise. (dumb). Then we labored over the mission and spent needless time wordsmithing the mission, vision and values. I just couldn't stand it - I just had to leave in mid-afternoon because I ran out of patience. At the end of the process, nothing really was accomplished, and the key critical "elephants in the room" never even got discussed. I am the lucky chair of a board governance committee who is charged with creating a strategic planning process for our organization. You can bet that I'm going to create a powerful, compelling experience that our board members will enjoy. I'll chronicle my experiences with our process over the next year as we progress. Have you had a strategic planning process that really worked for your organization? Why don't you share your experience?

How to Coach Your Board Volunteers

How important is it that you coach carefully any of your volunteers? And you need to choose them carefully too! I am commenting today on a LinkedIn discussion. The person who started the conversation told of a private school where two different board volunteers spoke about fundraising to the other parents. The first volunteer who spoke complained about "slack parent giving" last year, particularly compared to faculty/staff giving. And he was dressed in a monotone of gray. Wow, just the sort of delivery designed to get parents charging ahead to support the annual fund! Make folks feel bad and you're lost before you start. The second volunteer was a more "flamboyant" presence. He went on about how generous parent booster giving had been last year - to sports and extra-curricular activities. He was engaging and warm. The first volunteer was deadly (he had a track record of defeat), and the other one was enthusiastic (he had experienced success.) Clearly the person who had a negative and defeatist tone would never inspire other volunteers. This also shows that you can't expect every single board volunteer to be a great fundraiser. I think it's delusional to expect all board members to be able to be effective advocates for the cause or successful fundraisers. We need to select, train and "pump up" our volunteers carefully! I like to script my folks - or at least give them talking points - so they make an appropriate and engaging presentation. Negativity or arm-twisting never work! Never trust a volunteer to get up in front of a crowd and deliver the right message. Remember, they aren't in the business, they are just beginners (usually). So take control, brief them and give them the talking points. If you're really on top of things, actually schedule a formal rehearsal with them. Put them in front of a fictitious group of people and let them practice.

Find a "key revenue problem solver" for your board

Alice Korngold, contributing writer for Fast Company Magazine is blogging about building nonprofit boards, one of my favorite topics. I loved her post titled More Bad News for Nonprofit $$: More About Building Better Boards to FIx This, alice-korngold_1She takes a much-needed business person's approach to nonprofit boards. Here's my favorite: she says that the best people she has worked with, or recruited to a board were "key revenue problem-solvers." Nonprofits need to evaluate their business model frequently for missed revenue opportunities and sources of increased earned income. A board member with the right skill set can be invaluable in these cases. She cites as an example a new board member who was the global pricing strategist for a major consulting firm. The new board member "pulled a nonprofit out of the red by helping them revise their pricing strategy, thereby shifting the organization into financial health."