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Orientation of the New Board Members

February is here, Punxutawney Phil saw his shadow, so we have six more weeks of winter (line the calendar tells us). So what will we do on the days we’re snowed in?
I suggest that the well-informed nonprofit executive director will organize an orientation session for new board members. It’s always good when the new kids on the block know what’s up and feel they can participate with some helpful knowledge.
So our new members of the board get the update bylaws, a copy of the most recent audited financial statements, a staff directory, a board directory with contact information for each member and their affiliations, a copy of the nonprofit strategic plan. And maybe a few additional items.
At the orientation session, perhaps over lunch with 2 to 2.5 hours set aside, there can be some free flowing discussion of highlights from the key documents so we all know who’s on first and what’s the score.
Because a knowledgeable board is a more effective board.

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Strategic Thinking VI: Recruiting to Build the Nonprofit Board

Is your Nonprofit outgrowing your current Board? Does it seem no matter what you do, there is a lack of zip from most Board members?
It’s a tricky proposition to achieve Board development, even as the Nonprofit is evolving. We want to build capacity for our Nonprofit to better deliver the mission, and generate revenue that makes this possible.
Here are a few suggestions to get things moving in the right direction:
– You need at least two or three members of the current Board who get the need for change and are willing to work to make this happen.
– The chair of the Board needs to be an ally who will work with a core Board group and the Executive Director to get things moving in the right direction.
– At the next Board meeting, be totally transparent with what is happening: A recruitment effort supported by the Chair and led by a committee (Governance? Nominating?) appointed by the Chair to identify candidates, interview them, ask for resumes, work with a job description that accurately lets qualified candidates know where this is going and what is expected.

Some candidates may not agree to join the Board. Perhaps they will serve on a committee. This gives them a chance to get to know you and the organization. If commitment develops with this approach you can build a cadre of Board prospects starting with committee appointments.

This is hard work, and requires more effort than just the Executive Director.

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Nonprofit Board Orientation: Building Shared Vision

Helping the new member of the Board of Directors feel at home is the responsibility of the executive director and the chair of the Board.

The work of putting together a great orientation session and an effective Board manual of course can be delegated, but it’s the job of the nonprofit leadership to make sure that this work is done, and that it’s done well.

Having a two-hour session (including lunch or dinner) featuring the CEO, the Board chair, the treasurer and the chair of the development committee can help give the incoming members a good picture of what’s important and what’s expected of all Board members.

Conducting this session in such a way that engages the new members so they get to ask questions, and offer their viewpoints on key issues facing the organization lets them know that leadership expects even new members of the Board to hit the ground running. And along with this information comes an expectation that the new members will volunteer for at least one committee assignment. And how many events during the year are Board members expected to show up and participate in? All of this should be understood before the commitment is made, and the new members should be ready to sign up at or shortly after orientation for the important work that lies in front of this nonprofit.

A business-like approach that communicates the importance of what the nonprofit does, and the contribution of each and every member of this Board of Directors. Helping the entire Board, including the new folks, get into sync gives the group a chance to articulate and then work toward a shared vision for the future. Delivering the mission with a strong sense of purpose.

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What’s the Mortar that Keeps an Effective Board Together?

Why is it that so many nonprofit boards struggle and fail?
There are so many challenges to nonprofit sustainability. Raising money. Raising a staff in stages. Setting strategic direction. Building and retaining a working Board of Directors.
Today I focus on this last key piece. Building, cultivating and firming up the Board. Not easy. But there are steps from start-up to high performance.
FIRST gather a few (maybe five) people with some sense of what makes a nonprofit work, who love the mission that you’re envisioning, and will give you some time to make this work.
SECOND ask around for sample Board job descriptions. Collect a few. Bring them to one of the first meetings and talk it through. Seek common ground on what it takes to succeed.
THIRD Agree on frequency of meetings. Monthly for first 6 months? Alternate months thereafter?
FOURTH Agree on necessity of committees. Finance. Development. Governance. And recruit a few volunteers to join the committee who want to help but aren’t yet ready for Board prime time.
FIFTH Organize meeting agendas so important stuff needing Board action (vote) come forward. Easy on staff reports. Those can be required reading prior to each meeting.
Get members’ agreement to come to meetings prepared to discuss and decide. As the Board grows, members will develop a sense of what’s involved and where they can best contribute.
Building from ground up gradually over time will help get your nonprofit right where you want it to be.
At least you’ll give this key piece of the puzzle of effectiveness a strong chance of success.

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What Makes a Great Nonprofit Leader?

Today (5/7/2014) Harvard Business Review broadcast a webinar featuring Claudio Fernandez-Arboz, author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who. Mr. Fernandez-Arboz is an experienced, highly-regarded executive search professional who backs up his practice with well-researched principles in leadership effectiveness.

In his webinar, the speaker focused on major influences on challenges to finding and retaining capable leadership: Globalization, Demographics, and Pipelines. The competition for effective leaders gets tougher every year because there’s just not enough to go around.

Mr Fernandez-Aboz advocates that organizations identify up-and-comers in the organization with potential. Of course, competency is essential, but the leadership quality that trumps all others is potential. And the indicators for potential: Motivation, Curiosity, Insight, Engagement, and Determination.

Large nonprofits (Budget: $10 million plus) have the ability to identify people with qualities that indicate high potential.

Small (under $1 million) to mid-size (those up to $10 million) are challenged to cultivate and identify potential because the pool just isn’t that great. So where does the nonprofit Board look to find folks with potential?

Board leaders should be networked in their communities, attend nonprofit seminars where they meet professionals in the field, and read blogs and other sources that feature the thinking and doings of a variety of nonprofit leaders. Otherwise, it’s a turkey shoot to, out of the blue, conduct a search and try to identify candidates who can fill the bill based on a resume and an interview. You need more than that to skin that cat.

Keeping up-to-date with the literature on what makes fine leaders, and then networking to get to know the folks with high potential is both an art and a science.

First, you need to know what you’re looking for when your nonprofit is out looking for a new, capable CEO. And then, you need to find some great candidates who have the qualities you seek. And it takes some work to get there.

Note: I look forward to teaching classes in Leadership for Northeastern University’s program at the campus in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam this summer, 2014.

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