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Archive for August, 2012

The Strategic Nonprofit Board

Nonprofit organizations are in various stages of development. Like the terminology used in team development, nonprofits go through similar steps: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing (thank you, Donald Egolf, PhD).
When the nonprofit reaches the Performing level, it’s time (if there isn’t one in place) to invest energy in a Strategic Plan.
I suppose a nonprofit board could decide in its formative phase to do some serious strategic work. If the right board is in place, this could work. But usually, the initial group are good buddies with the director and they’re just not ready to tackle the serious business of setting direction. Heck, they’re probably struggling to keep the doors open.
A high-performing nonprofit organization that’s clear about mission, vision and goals needs to get strategic about the What and How of raising money, marketing approach to identified target audiences, communication approach that makes sense, and, above all, clarity around “what is the program?” What are we offering to our primary customers? How are we helping these customers change their lives for the better? Can we measure that change? Can we clearly articulate that change to our donors and volunteers?
Major funders…foundations as well as major donors…want answers to these questions.
And the best way to identify the right answers is to go through a robust planning process.
When I’m facilitating a strategic plan process, I want the board and stakeholders to work on answering these questions:
a. What is our mission?
b. Who are our customers?
c. What do our customers value?
d. What is the difference we make?
The work on a strategic plan gets the key players, board members, staff, volunteers, other stakeholders on the same page. At least mostly if not 100%.
Getting the group in focus is half the battle. Going out and actually doing what we say we’re committed to is the other half. And getting the where-with-all to make this happen is…the confirmation that we’ve got it right.

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Parsing Our Way Through the Social Media Maze

I’ve written frequently about my admiration for Beth Kanter (Twitter: @Kanter; blog: and Bob Cargill (Twitter: @cargillcreative) who share lots of good, useful stuff on social media with us all. I also want to commend you to an Infographic “Social Media Cheat Sheet” from Search Engine Journal (January, 2012) I have this particular Infographic posted on Pinterest :Learning from Gurus. Very helpful tool for nonprofit leaders trying to make sense of what might work best in a particular situation as a social media approach. Many friends and colleagues worry about social media as a black hole: that could easily suck up lots of valuable time. No doubt. This can happen. But, on the other hand, social media offer great ways to reach out and communicate with our clients, customers, stakeholders, volunteers. You name it. This is what I’d call “Intelligent Design.” Taking a huge universe and finding the right corner to work in. Check it out.

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Where Is Your Nonprofit with Succession Planning?

Came across a Twitter tweet today from Hildy Gottlieb. Dusting off an “old” article, which is every bit as relevant today as it was in 2006 when it was published by Creating the Future: Nonprofit boards must get intentional and purposeful about “who’s next” for them: When the time comes, how will they find the right replacement for their CEO? This is every bit as important as the strategic plan. After all, it is about future direction. Knowing the What and the How of the Plan are good. Knowing the Who as in “Who’s next?” can’t be neglected. I was checking out which has published in this area, and has convened thought leaders in the field to help nonprofits strategize around leadership succession. Their site is worth some exploration.

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The Value of Board Orientation

It’s summertime, and lots of nonprofit boards of directors have had their annual meeting. Some will meet in the fall. Annual meeting time is customarily when boards elect officers and vote in new members. Boards that have term limits specified in the bylaws make it a practice to rotate members who have served their time, off the board and bring the newly elected members in.

Effective boards take some time to orient the new folks in how business is done.

I recommend that the executive director work out an orientation schedule with members of the executive committee and senior staff. Scheduling orientation to occur when it’s least inconvenient for all (over breakfast, lunch, or dinner) allowing enough time for big stuff to be covered, and for questions to get answered.

Here’s a suggested Orientation Agenda for your consideration:

1. Introductions. Each person present introduces self and why s/he works for or volunteers for the nonprofit.

2. What the bylaws say: A quick overview of key areas describing board responsibilities. These govern board action.

3. Staff flow chart and a board committee chart laying out the flow of work.

4. Highlight most recent budget and work plan for the current year with an outline of how decisions are made and who (staff or board) makes which kinds of decisions.

5. Big issues before the nonprofit at the moment. Pointing out two or three challenges that have the organization’s attention, and how they are being dealt with.

6. Mission and strategic direction: Where the nonprofit is headed and how it hopes to get there.

This can be successfully accomplished in a two-to-three hour timeframe. The idea is to get the organization’s decision-makers on the same page so all know what’s up, how this group works, and what’s expected.

Each new member should know what the options are for committee assignments, and let the board chair know his/her preferences. Within two weeks of this meeting, the chair should confer with the executive director and determine where the new members can best fit on which committees.

Taking the time each year, within six weeks (or so) of the annual meeting, to conduct a well-planned orientation will help new members see where things are heading, and how they can best fit in.

There are many guides to help lay out a useful orientation. Check BoardSource, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC dedicated to effective nonprofit governance. You will find many useful tools available for purchase that you can put into practice.

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