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Proper Orientation for New Board Members

Congratulations. Your Governance committee identified qualified candidates for election to the Board. There are three vacancies, so at the Annual Meeting there will be three candidates placed in nomination before the membership. So now it’s done and we’re so proud: Some new folks to inject some energy to governance at our nonprofit.
Time now to conduct the orientation. Which of course has been planned in advance. A board manual is ready containing bylaws, the past year’s minutes, an annual report and most recent audited financial statements. And of course a board member job description.
So who will conduct the orientation? The executive director and other senior staff should be there. The chair of the board or chair of the governance committee should officiate. With an agenda. And we want the Treasurer and/or chair of the Finance Committee to be present. At a breakfast or lunch gathering. The meal and meeting should take no longer than two hours. There may be video to show. We might take a look at the nonprofit website on a big screen. And what are the hot issues we’re dealing with.
This way our new folks won’t feel they’re operating in a vacuum. Self-orientation can be so hit-or-miss. Encouraging some dialogue with real give-and-take helps make key points register. And gives our new members an opportunity to show us why we have such confidence in them.
This way we’re ready for business. Sure, there will likely still be questions to get clarification on matters that might still be a bit hazy. But this is how we learn. And fulfill our legal and fiduciary duties.

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Now that We’ve Got ’em, What Do We Do with ’em?

So the Governance committee has been out and about seeking volunteers who would like to join our Board. And who bring something we need to the table.
They identified a volunteer on the finance committee, and one from the HR committee who have worked with us for nearly two years and feel like the move up to the Board would be a good experience.
Our Board meets 4 times a year. Twice in fall, once in winter, once in spring. Off for the summer. Our chair runs excellent meetings. Never more than two hours. Always have a client join us to tell us her story at the start of our meetings. To set the right tone.
Beyond members of standing committees, Governance committee members recruited a couple of others from the community. We were fortunate to find an estate planner at a mid-size law firm in town who cares about our mission and would like to help us get our legacy giving program off the ground. And a small business owner whose Mom was helped by one of our program professionals decided this would be her opportunity to “give back.” She has been very generous in many ways. But it was pretty clear to the volunteers on Governance that this young lady is an eager-beaver whose business is soaring and who will bring some adrenaline to our cause.
So. Four new board members joining what will be a group of fourteen. Three members will rotate off. They have hit the ceiling on term limits and, no hard feelings, agreed it was time to move on. Good to know we can call on each of them if we need them.
So. Healthy board. Strong capacity for growth.
Outlook is good.

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Crossing the Board Giving Bridge

Nearly every authority on nonprofit governance I know agrees: One element of board responsibility is to contribute to the nonprofit they serve. The concept does make sense. If members of the board of directors are reluctant to give we’re off to a rough start in our fundraising.

But what if several members of the nonprofit board feel like they give of their time. Why should they also give money? A hush fills the room.

This is very much about attitude. And the problem is exacerbated because this non (financial) giving board member is also unlikely to ask others to give. Makes perfect sense to me.

So how do we bridge this gap in attitude? I suggest we start with an attitude of gratitude, as Gayle Gifford tells it on her blog http://www.ceffect.com/2011/11/16/an-attitude-of-gratitude/.

So let’s start with building a sense of gratitude for those who do support the mission in a financial way. As your annual campaign unfolds, recruit board members to thank certain donors. Start by asking them to scan the donor list for folks whose names they might recognize. Design a Thank You Plan that asks board members, within a specified time following receipt of the gift, to call or email this donor and express thanks. Gratitude. And at the next board meeting, let’s hear from a few members on how the Thank You went.

I recommend we give as much time to the Thank You process as you do in planning the campaign of asking.

Our hope is that as we enlist board members in this activity, and we hear about this at board meetings, we build an attitude of gratitude that leads to growth in personal giving by these very board members.

What do you think?

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Never Say Die: The Importance of Persistent Mission Communication

The Gallup survey of US confidence in the economy currently (stable) and future (wary) http://www.gallup.com/poll/184271/economic-confidence-index-level-masks-volatility.aspx?utm_source=ECONOMIC_CONFIDENCE& reflects what has been happening in Europe with Greece still on the brink of financial failure. How does the economic outlook in the US impact our fundraising prospects?
Nonprofit leaders should maintain strong effort to connect with your stakeholders: The people who benefit from your mission directly and indirectly, the people who support your mission directly and indirectly. Work from a plan that will strengthen the bonds with individuals in your networks. Focus on people with the ability to deliver all manner of resources to energize the mission. The goodwill, future financial support, and contacts developed by networking during this period of economic uncertainty will be the silver lining to support your fundraising efforts.
Networking is the art of identifying, cultivating, and engaging friends of your organization. These relationships ultimately may yield monetary support, non-financial support; they can become ambassadors who cultivate more friends. Now is the time to identify these potential friends, hone your message, and plan how to best deliver the message. By getting your staff, board of directors, and other volunteers ready for brighter days, you’ll build your capacity to thrive even in the shadow of economic uncertainty.
The best place to start is a meeting of the board of directors, who must constantly stay mindful of their role as emissaries for the organization. They know the mission, they know the goals, they know the good that the organization brings to the community. How do they communicate this value? How do they spread the good news with people they work with, play with, pray with?
Start with a conversation. Take some time at a staff meeting and the next board meeting to talk about reaching out to friends to share your mission. There may be members who are doing this now. Identify them before the next meeting. Ask them to share their techniques with the group. Use their experiences to kick off the discussion. Listen for the ideas that have been most successful. Share a summary of the results with all who can benefit from these experiences.
Continue the conversation. Be sure to put the discussion on the agenda for subsequent meetings. Find out in advance who is trying the new techniques. Ask one or two of the new practitioners to report on what they’re doing.
Engage communications experts to share advice. Do you have a director of communications on your staff? If not, does one of your board members or volunteers have communication expertise? Strategize with this person about your approach to engaging networks. Incorporate messages that are consistent with your brand so your staff and volunteers are talking about your work in a unified and consistent way.
Twitter? Facebook? Blogs? Is someone on your team experienced working with social media and willing to show others how to effectively use these tools? It’s likely that this person will be younger than most of the team. If so, this is an excellent opportunity to let an up-and-comer show their stuff. An effective plan for social media can engage people you otherwise might miss who will support your mission once they learn what the organization is about.
What’s your story? Nonprofit organizations have numerous stories about your clients’ great experience with your services. Incorporate telling stories as part of “conversation time.” A program staff person or a volunteer probably has more than one such story to share. Let your group hear a story or two each time you meet, and encourage your board, staff, and volunteers to retell these stories when they are out engaging their networks.
There is a reservoir of good will out there, ready to hear about the good you do. And every day, your volunteers and staff talk with many people who will want to help bring the “good” you deliver to more people. Your organization’s job is to forge links through staff, board, and volunteer networks so you can grow the circle of friends and supporters. When you take the time to apply creative approaches to communication through networks, you engage and energize people for your mission. It takes commitment and work, but it will put your organization in the strongest possible position, despite economic uncertainty.

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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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