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Building Nonprofit Board Development Skill in Stages

I’ve written frequently about the importance of building relationships as fundamental to effective fundraising. This is the development part of the fundraising equation: if our goal is to build a solid, active donor database consisting of lots of folks committed to our mission, the effective part starts with our Board of Directors. The core of our nonprofit organization and its mission.

OK. So groan if you must. I know that many of you have knocked your head on this door a number of times, and come up against resistance. “I didn’t sign up for that.” “I give you my time; it’s your job to raise the money.” I think all of us at one time or another have been there and lived that.

So how do we get to that transformational place that Kay Sprinkel Grace, fundraiser extraordinaire, talks about in her books (e.g., High Impact Philanthropy) and workshops?

It happens step-by-step. In Stages. Ages ago, I cited a Guidestar piece, “Five Fundraising Mistakes We Make with our Boards.” Heck. Only five? here’s a link:

We start by talking about and acting on building relationships. It takes that interpersonal connectivity around our mission, around the good we are doing for our primary customers, that builds the commitment we need to move the mission and our nonprofit forward. Think about the emotional energy we draw from stories about success around the mission. Take time at board meetings to get the stories on the table, talk about them and share the good feelings that come; the bonding that can happen around these stories. This is the source of energy, and we build it deliberately over time from meeting-to-meeting. When we get this momentum around our mission, the concept of asking our friends who share our commitment to contribute to the cause feels like a natural next step.

In State of the Union messages to Congress and the USA, President Obama frequently closed with stories to illustrate points he wanted to hammer home. Following the mass shooting in Newtown, CT gun violence was the story. I thought his five minutes of story telling was far more effective than the previous hour and ten minutes of listing all the goals he wanted to accomplish.

So don’t forget to tell the stories.

Asking for money to advance a cause we share is a natural progression. Build the Fundraising Board: but do it in stages, over time. So suggesting that a member of the Board ask a friend for a gift doesn’t feel alien, uncomfortable, out of line. Asking becomes a logical next step.

Give it a go.

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Relationship Check-up: The CEO and the Board Chair

We can have a solid strategic plan, a clear concise mission, an ample donor database. But if the CEO and the Board chair don’t have and seek a strong working relationship, it undermines confidence of staff and rest of the Board and can limit the nonprofit’s capacity to succeed.
So what are some indicators that can help us know we’re good with this relationship?

    Conduct of Board Meetings

: The chair formulates the agenda, in consultation with the CEO. They discuss the agenda about a week prior to each meeting. The Board is the source of nonprofit governance. The CEO and staff execute the program and are accountable for its successful delivery.

    Communicating with Community.

There are roles that should be clarified on when the CEO speaks on behalf of the organization, and when the chair of the board does. This should become a policy, adopted by the Board and reviewed each time a new Chair is elected. So when the nonprofit takes a position on a matter that the community should hear about, we (insiders) know who will speak on a key issue.

    Assessing Performance of the Nonprofit

As a general rule, the CEO oversees performance assessment of staff. And the Board Chair or his/her designee conducts an annual performance review of the CEO. And that review is based on the job description and objectives agreed-to by the Board and CEO at the beginning of each year. This clarity of purpose helps avoid subjective assessments that are not based on pre-determined important factors.

We could discuss more. And I’m happy to have that conversation if you reach out and seek my advice and guidance in making leadership relationships work.

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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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The Strategic Board

I am working now with a Housing Authority on a strategic plan. The most interesting part of this work is helping a group determine what needs to be done that isn’t getting done now, what stuff that is getting done needs to be stopped, and who are the customers and stakeholders to listen to to sort all this out.
I look forward to speaking at the Tri-State Housing conference in Meredith NH in September to explore how a group that’s relied for decades on federal $ can explore initiatives that will attract new money sources that can help get new stuff on the agenda. And deliver new service to folks who need it.
Complicated issues. Like sorting out elderly housing needs from housing for disabled from housing for the single parent household dealing with severe poverty.
Other than that, life is but a dream.

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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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