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Archive for April, 2011

The Orientation Hokey Pokey

You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out, you put your right foot in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey…I guess you have to be of a certain age to “get” this. We did the Hokey Pokey at junior high cotillion (Wednesday night dance party at Temple Tiferith Israel), and then at bar mitzvahs, weddings…the whole megilah.

Effective nonprofit organizations with hard-working, engaged boards of directors don’t do the Hokey Pokey.  They do honest-to-goodness orientation of new board members. So they get the culture, they understand the rules of the road, and they’re prepared to participate as full partners at board meetings and on a committee.  Or maybe two committees. Solid board orientation helps set the right tone for members so they know what’s up and prepare to be full participants.

Smart orientation can look something like this:

  • There’s an up-to-date Board Manual with updated bylaws, full set of policies (personnel, affirmative action, non-discrimination), job description of CEO, job description for board members, meeting dates for the coming year, copy of current budget and work plan in progress.
  • The CEO arranges a lunch or breakfast or light supper meeting for newcomers to board as well as two or three officers of the board.  Work is divided up among the leaders.
  • The chair of the board shares how meetings are run, the usual business of the board, and highlights three-to-five items from the governance documents in the manual that are important to her. Questions and discussion are invited.
  • The treasurer or chair of finance committee gives a brief overview of finances, highlights of the budget process, and points out three (or so) key elements from the most recent financial statement that describe the current $ situation for the nonprofit. Also, a comment or two on the most recent annual audit.
  • The CEO invites key staff she believes can help talk about the role of this nonprofit in the community, internal and external communications, the program objectives for the current year, how they are progressing, where they could most use help.

The chair of the board has an idea of committee assignments for the newcomers. These are discussed in advance of the meeting so there are no surprises. At the meeting, the chair announces the assignments to all, asks if there are questions.

In most cases, there is a standard way board members are asked to make an annual donation to the nonprofit. This is mentioned by one of the board members present: when the ask comes, the % of board members who give, perhaps the average gift.

And if there is (or are) training session(s) for the board as a whole during the year, this is known in advance and touched on at orientation. The importance of development of the board, and keeping the group up with current information and best practice is shared.

Board members appreciate this kind of activity conducted in a professional, efficient manner. All come on time. And the meeting adjourns on time.

This makes the experience more like Dancing with the Stars and less like the Hokey Pokey.

Okey dokey?

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Nonprofit CEO’s: Doing More with Less

Sitting in the catbird seat, watching the painstakingly-slow economic recovery.  Meanwhile, more families face foreclosure on their homes. And federal/state/local belt-tightening is in progress.  Progress?  All this leaves me in a state of perplexity: how best to advise nonprofit leaders operating in this 21st century reality of trying to Do More with Less?

Nonprofit Chief Executive Officers are facing tough challenges: how much can we cut from our operations without undermining our capacity to deliver the services we feel compelled to provide?  Among the health and human service organizations substantial government cuts in funding for basic services to low-income folk (home energy assistance, women-infants-children financial support, food stamps) will  push  demand for service while at the same time supply of dollars at best stays level with the previous year.

How do leaders lead in challenging times like these?

To play pollyanna makes no sense.  The Pied Piper of Hamlin’s merry tune caused the rats to follow him from the village. That must have been one merry tune. Or, Mr. Piper was attracting the crowd to Happy Hour at the bar on the edge of town.

It’s time for leaders to take inventory.  Nonprofit CEO’s must look at their salary and benefits package (as lean as it may be) and with staff as partners, determine if there aren’t ways for the next two or three years to trim some costs without undermining the capacity of the community benefit organization to deliver.

The Nonprofit CEO must also engage the board leadership to explore revenue opportunities. Are there fundraising activities that may have worked in the past that should be re-initiated?  How might donors respond to a second appeal this year?  Should we consider a telephone appeal to lapsed donors?  The new fundraising effort must focus on the rising demand for service. It’s not about “poor us, the struggling nonprofit.”

The CEO should also discuss opportunities for advocacy work with the board.  To let the debate about cutbacks be monopolized by those arguing for “less government” and “living within our means” is to cede the public arena to one point of view. Respected leaders, staff and volunteer, need to find ways within IRS limits on 501(c)(3) regulation on advocacy, to stand up for the needs of their clients in non-political terms.  During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the economy was in the tank. But  leaving people to starve was not a viable option.

In my view, there is no one better than the nonprofit CEO to get staff and volunteers organized to assure that this group is doing the very best it can to stand up and deliver the mission as best as possible.  Yes, some costs must be cut. At the same time we must askAsk donors to respond to urgent need. Ask elected officials to look at the burgeoning need.

We all need to learn to Do More with Less.

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The Missing Link: Effective Recruiting Guide for Nonprofit Boards

Nonprofit Boards of Directors are in a seemingly perpetual state of seeking new, energetic, smart members to join their Board. The conversation at the Board meeting goes something like this:

Chair of the nominating committee:  we’re looking for some new blood for the Board. Any ideas?

Member of the Board wanting to be helpful: Yes!  I know someone!  I’ll ask him and see if he’ll join.

Great!  Odds are, the person will be flattered, will likely be unable to say “No” to this good friend, agree to serve, have zero idea what he’s getting in to, and be among the missing in subsequent Board meetings.

There’s a better way to do this.

The Nominating Committee should let the Board know it’s in search mode: seeking capable qualified candidates to serve. Members should be encouraged to send recommendations to the committee chairperson. Perhaps obtain a resume from the possible candidate. Share the resume with the Nominating Committee.

It’s best if the candidate has a relationship with the nonprofit organization. Someone who has shown interest in the mission; someone who has participated in one or more special events.

At the same time, the Nominating Committee should review the qualities and qualifications of those currently on the Board. Are there skills that are missing?  Determine how best to recruit to meet needs…to fill gaps in expertise, in diversity, in gender and other qualities that will help bring new perspective and experience to advance the nonprofit mission.

I recommend that you check out Bridgestar for some helpful tips on nonprofit Board recruitment.

In a 2008 document “Becoming a More Effective Nonprofit Board,” Bridestar says “Beyond ‘what’ to do, ‘how’ the board does its work is equally important…it encompasses the thorny questions of how to fill gaps when the board needs different people, how to recruit them, and how to exit board members appropriately when that becomes the right thing to do.”

When the Board of Directors looks at itself as a valuable human resource, an investment in the nonprofit mission, it will do a better job looking for the right candidates to help move the mission forward effectively. It’s not easy. It’s kind of like finding and hiring an effective pitching staff for a Major League Baseball team. So be wary of handing out guaranteed, long-term contracts.

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Brand Building Through the Board of Directors

This topic will be featured Thursday, April 7, 2011 Noon (USA Eastern time) on a Nonprofit Direct Teleseminar. A fee is charged. For registration information:

Building and supporting the nonprofit Brand is important for the marketing, communications and development work of a nonprofit organization.  And Brand work starts with the Board of Directors.  Because we all need to be “on board” when it comes to Brand. Small to mid-size nonprofit organizations face particular challenges.  There may not be a marketing/communications professional on staff to see to the work that underlies Brand:  effective communications, determining the “voice” of the nonprofit, defining the value proposition.  The executive director, working with Board leadership, can recruit volunteers for a marketing/communications work group that gets the marketing work (clarify the value proposition, clarify who is the primary customer, create messages targeting supporting customers) done that will best represent and advance the nonprofit Brand.

Some nonprofit organizations budget a modest amount for a consulting marketing/communications professional.  Starting with as little as $5,000 can buy a piece of a professional’s time. And sometimes the firm or sole practitioner will discount their customary fee because they feel an affinity for the nonprofit cause. And want to help get the Brand in focus with a short list of activities that can get the organization on its way.

I highly recommend Gary Stern’s “Champions With A Cause: The Nonprofit Board Member’s Role in Marketing.” Required reading by board and staff to assure that the team is on the same page.

For more ideas on “how to,” please feel free to contact me via e-mail ( or phone (781-334-4915).

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