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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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Transparency and Accountability

For nonprofit organizations to achieve their highest level of effectiveness, there must be accountability.

Effective nonprofits adopt performance standards for the executive director and a self-assessment process for the Board itself.

Nonprofit executives adopt sound performance review process to assure staff are working to achieve their responsibilities.

And high-functioning Boards have an annual or semi-annual review process in place of their executive director.

Transparency is a value we should strive for. There needs to be sound processes of evaluation in place so we know we’re measuring what’s important, and report to our clients and supporters how we’re doing. Our successes. As well as areas we’re working to improve.

It’s continuous improvement that contributes to nonprofit effectiveness.

For assistance in putting such systems in place: s.p.99smith@gmail.com.

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Five Tips for Board Bonding

The Board of Directors is an odd species.
Customarily, there are twelve to fifteen members. They meet regularly: Quarterly. Monthly. Alternate months.
Some Boards grow and develop nicely. What’s the correct potting soil mix? Amount of sunlight? Fertilizer (there’s usually an abundance of that available)…that fosters a thriving healthy Board to keep your Nonprofit mission in proper focus?
From my experience, and training at BoardSource and Leader to Leader and NH Association of Nonprofits, these are five of the keys to Nonprofit/Board success:
Active Governance Committee These are the keepers of the Holy Grail. They are on the lookout for new Board members who can contribute to data-driven decision-making. Who enjoy working with people.
Focused Meeting Agendas Once in a while, the discussion can get off-track. And once in a while this can be beneficial. But generally, Board leaders keep things moving and the give-and-take is targeted to issues that will help this group make intelligent, well-informed decisions.
Strategic Direction The Board knows where the organization is headed and stays focused on helping it accomplish the mission. At each meeting we hear about progress in achieving goals the Board has set.
Time for Play The Board takes time now and then for some social activities. Dinner and conversation. A learning experience that sheds new light on one of the nonprofit’s goals. It’s not all about the formal meetings.
Be Prepared Members come to meetings having read the attachments to the agenda. Leaders know that they can’t overload the work, or members will drift off. Keep agenda do-able in 2 hours.
Following these few steps can put you on the road to higher levels of effectiveness. And along with it, higher levels of Board member satisfaction. And that’s the truth!

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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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Welcoming Comments, Discussion with Nonprofit Donors

Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) is a frequent social media/marketing commentator teaching at NYU. I’ve followed him on Twitter for several years. I am particularly drawn to his observations on the changing state of communication in the USA and the world. Here is a recent blog post from Jay: http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/25/trying-to-keep-a-celebrity-class-of-commenters-happy/?_r=0.
I find it interesting that the NY Times is looking for ways to boost comment opportunities for readers on their stories. In part, the paper/website attracts a sophisticated level of readership. The comments frequently are as interesting (sometimes more) than the writer of the original piece.
What does this topic have to do with us in the nonprofit realm?
Social media give us many new vehicles for discourse with our customers: Primary (those benefiting from the work we do) and Supporting (those who make our work possible through donations and volunteering). To the extent possible, we should encourage this communication. Stimulate it when we can. Because enhanced communication helps firm up the relationship. And this is a good thing.
Granted, we do have haters out there who are disappointed in us and what we’re delivering and what it costs us to make our goals come to fruition.
Sometimes the criticism is justified, and can help us reflect. And maybe even change the way we go about our business. Imagine that!
Communication improves our ability to imagine. And as we move along in our work, it serves to improve the quality of what we’re delivering. Chew on that a bit. Please.
All thanks to some words of wisdom from Jay Rosen. A guy I admire from afar.

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