Board of Directors
A couple of board members approached her to ask what she needed to continue to move forward. They wanted her to be blunt about the obstacles in her way. She was equally honest, telling them she could really benefit from leadership coaching on how to manage a staff, grow an organization, continue to develop the board, build financial sustainability. The board didn’t bat an eye. They told her to figure out how much it would cost so they could foot the bill.
How amazing is that?
A group of board members not only recognized that their executive director might have challenges that she wasn’t expressing, but also listened to those challenges and invested in their solutions. What a dream scenario!
How great would it be if more board members, and even some donors, did that?
There is some hope. A small subset of funders are recognizing and investing in the tremendous need for leadership development in the nonprofit sector.
But a nonprofit leader who is really struggling doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for her board (or donors) to wise up and ask her about the challenges she is facing. So in lieu of a truly enlightened board of directors, here is what you can do to encourage your board (and close donors) to become capacity builders:
Identify a Few Allies
As executive director you probably have at least one or two board members, and perhaps a couple of donors, who are very supportive of what you do. They strongly believe in the work of your organization and your ability to effectively lead that work. Meet with them one-on-one to discuss the challenges you are facing – not in order to vent your frustrations, but rather to explore proactive solutions.
Describe the Capacity Challenges
Really analyze what is holding you and your organization back. Where do you struggle? Why are you hitting your head against the wall? Describe in an honest (but not whining) way the capacity constraints (lack of adequate staff, effective technology, long-term planning, verified program results) and how those issues keep you from delivering more social change.
Quantify the Capacity Building Solutions
Figure out what it would take to clear those hurdles. How much would a Development Director cost? Or an evaluation program? Or a strategic plan? Then break those costs into investable amounts. A single board member or donor may not be able to fully fund a $50,000 evaluation program or a $75,000 Development Director. But if 3-5 board members made their own investments and then identified a couple of other people who could also invest, you would quickly get there. Show your allies how achievable, with their (capacity capital) support, the solution is.
Create Champions in the Cause
But don’t let them off the hook when they write that check. Enlist their help in convincing others inside and outside the organization why you need to invest in capacity building. Have them articulate to others how important this next step is and the potential return on investment to the organization, and the social change you all seek. Create an army of champions who will advocate for your capacity building cause.
The challenges you face as a nonprofit leader are very real. But they won’t get any better unless you become proactive. Find partners among your board and donors to help you remove those obstacles standing in your way.
If you want to learn more about the leadership coaching I provide nonprofit leaders, click here, and if you want to learn more about raising capacity capital, download the Launch a Capacity Capital Campaign guide.
Photo Credit: Paul Keheler
My hope in creating the growing library of Social Velocity videos is that nonprofit leaders will use the topics as a jumping off point for honest discussions with boards and donors. It can often be intimidating for a nonprofit leader to raise a controversial question like:
- “Should all board members be required to fundraise?”
- “Should we stop worrying about program vs. overhead expenses?”
- “How do we get our board more engaged?“
A nonprofit leader could set aside 30 minutes in a board meeting agenda for a discussion kicked off by a 2-minute video. Play a video, and then simply ask “What do you think?” Or you could show a video to a donor when you meet and ask for their opinion.
Some will disagree vehemently with what I have to say, but others might agree, or at least be open to thinking in new ways. An interesting, thought-provoking conversation might ensue. From that discussion you might start to plant seeds for change.
So to add to the library of conversation starters, today I offer this video on What Nonprofits Really Need From Their Donors. And if you want to see other videos in the series go to the Social Velocity YouTube channel. Good luck!
Wrangling a group of volunteers who have competing and often conflicting interests is an exhausting job. It’s no wonder that nonprofit leaders often want to throw up their hands and soldier on without the rag tag group that’s supposed to further, as opposed to impede, the work.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. An “engaged board” is not an oxymoron. It is actually attainable. But you don’t get there by cajoling, guilting, ignoring or dismissing your board.
You get there by marshaling this critical army to grow your resources, your community of supporters, your results. Because an engaged board raises more money, recruits and trains other engaged board members, connects your nonprofit to key people and organizations necessary to achieve the mission, puts your nonprofit above their self interest, and ultimately leads your organization to greater results and impact.
There are very clear steps you can take to build an engaged board:
- Create a clear idea of the specific skills, experience and networks board members should possess
- Continually focus the board on the big picture
- Get them ALL to raise enough money
- Help them embrace money as an effective tool
- Make them understand and be able to articulate the impact of your nonprofit
- Create a commitment among them to build the organization
- Encourage them to ask hard questions
- And more…
You can help them become the board of directors they were meant to be.
An engaged board understands and fully embraces their charge. They have extremely high standards, and they hold themselves, their fellow board members and their nonprofit to those standards. They are constantly pushing, striving, and building the nonprofit to whom they are devoting their service. An engaged board may be an anomaly, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you want to build an engaged board, the Build an Engaged Board Tool Bundle can help you get there. The Bundle includes:
- The “Getting Your Board to Raise More Money” Webinar
- The “10 Traits of a Groundbreaking Board” E-book
- The “How to Build a Fundraising Board” Webinar
Here’s what some people who have already downloaded the board tools had to say about them:
“This was very concrete and actionable – gave specific suggestions regarding engaging board members. This was very useful. Well done.”
“This really opened my eyes to new possibilities – thank you so much!”
“This was one of the best and most helpful and informative webinars I’ve been on. It was exactly what I was looking for in terms of beginning to get our board energized and on track and I will use the slides to help me prepare for our upcoming board retreat.”
An ineffective board is not just a frustration for the executive director. Sadly it is a HUGE missed opportunity. Your board could be so much more. When you effectively engage your board of directors, you grow your resources and ability to create social change exponentially.
You can download the Build an Engaged Board Tool Bundle here.
Photo Credit: Dr. Strangelove
Earlier this month, there was a great post by Linda Wood from the Haas Fund bemoaning the fact that 73% of nonprofit leaders in a recent Center for Effective Philanthropy study said they lack resources to build their leadership skills. And the recent Meyer Foundation Executive Director Listening Project found that nonprofit leaders’ biggest challenges are fundraising, human capital management and board of directors management — all leadership challenges.
This doesn’t surprise me at all.
I constantly witness the lack of support nonprofit leaders receive for building their leadership skills. Leading a nonprofit is an incredibly demanding task and the challenges are only growing. Nonprofit leaders are expected to magically solve the world’s problems, on a shoestring, while herding a disparate group of volunteers, funders, clients.
Which is why I think nonprofit leader coaching holds so much promise for the sector. If a struggling nonprofit leader had a strategic partner who could help her think through staffing, fundraising, board management and strategic decisions, instead of having to figure it out all on her own, it could be transformative.
Nonprofit leader coaching is one-on-one strategic counsel from someone with deep management, financial, and strategy expertise. With a strategic coach, a nonprofit leader can find solutions to issues like how to:
- Create the most effective staffing structure for growth
- Recruit and engage an effective board
- Diversify and grow funding streams aligned with the nonprofit’s specific mission and operations
- Analyze strategic opportunities for the organization
- Develop effective collaborations that build on the organization’s assets
The return on investment of coaching can be really exciting. Let me give you some examples:
Increased Board Fundraising
Fundraising is such a tricky business. Often nonprofit boards are fairly ineffective at it, largely because they and their nonprofit leader don’t know how to focus the board’s efforts. This was true for one of my clients whose board didn’t understand fundraising and was confused about their role. Through coaching, both with the executive director and board members, the board now understands how each of them individually can contribute to bringing money in the door. They also understand how to focus their efforts on the most profitable activities and now have the skills and knowledge to move the organization’s financial strategy forward. As a result, the board has dramatically increased the number of new donors to the organization.
Clearer Strategic Thinking
Nonprofits are constantly bombarded with new opportunities, new partnerships, new funding ideas. A coach can help a nonprofit leader think through how a new opportunity might fit with the overall organization strategy, ask hard questions and analyze the costs and benefits. In this coaching role, I encourage nonprofit leaders to take a step back and examine all of the implications of a decision, how it might draw resources away, what impact it will have on the larger work, how it moves the organization closer to or farther away from strategic alignment, and so on. Coaching can get nonprofits away from group think and towards making smarter, more strategic decisions.
More Productive Staff
Management of staff is one of the hardest jobs of being a leader in any setting, but I think it’s particularly tricky in the nonprofit sector where resources are tighter and nonprofits are often encouraged to play nice at all costs. In coaching around staff challenges, I help a leader create an effective staffing structure for the organization, analyze and resolve staff conflicts, and make sure all staff are playing to their strengths.
Strategic coaching is not right for every nonprofit leader because it takes a real commitment to change, a willingness to analyze situations, and an openness to making difficult decisions.
But coaching is right for a leader who:
- Leads an organization that is ready for change
- Is open to trying new approaches
- Wants to have difficult, but important, conversations with board, staff and funders
- Needs a thinking partner to help make strategic decisions
- Recognizes that she doesn’t have all of the answers
- Is ready to build her leadership skills
Photo Credit: PhilanTopic
One of my resolutions this new year is to add more video to the Social Velocity site. I love watching video, and I’d love to see more nonprofits using the medium, so I thought I should probably follow suit. A few months ago I created a Social Velocity YouTube channel and will continue to add video to it over the course of the year. I also plan to do some video blogging this year, which I’m pretty excited about.
But today I want to introduce my new consulting video. Here I discuss how I consult with nonprofit clients. If you are reading this in an email, you can see the video by clicking here. Take a look!
I’m delighted to announce that I’ve just released the Financing Not Fundraising, 2012 E-book. This e-book is the second in the Financing Not Fundraising e-book series. While the Financing Not Fundraising, 2011 E-book laid out the basic elements of the Financing Not Fundraising approach, this new e-book, a compilation and expansion of blog posts in the Financing Not Fundraising blog series from 2012, goes deeper into the concept.
We are living in a new reality. And the old rules of nonprofit funding simply no longer apply. Those nonprofits that take a big step back and create a smart strategy for bringing enough money in the door to achieve their mission are the ones that will survive and thrive in this new environment. In creating that strategy they are moving to finance, instead of fundraise for, their organizations. And the result is a stronger, more effective, more sustainable organization with excited, energized, empowered board, staff and donors.
The 25-page Financing Not Fundraising, 2012 E-book expands on the basic elements of the Financing Not Fundraising model and helps those nonprofits that are ready to start moving away from fundraising to really dive into this new approach.
Here are the elements in this second level of Financing Not Fundraising:
- Stop Fearing Money
- Connect Money to Your Strategic Plan
- Fix Your Fundraising Plan
- Jump Start Your Board
- Align Executive and Development Directors
- Get Real With Your Donors
- Abandon Ineffective Fundraisers
- Kiss That Endowment Dream Goodbye
- Reinvent the Capital Campaign
Nonprofits, like any organization, are constantly faced with new opportunities. In a world that is moving faster, becoming more competitive and increasingly requiring solutions, new opportunities crop up all the time. Should you offer services to a different kind of client? Should you collaborate with a competing organization? Should you pursue a new potential revenue stream? Because nonprofits are consensus-based and have multiple “customers” they sometimes go after new opportunities that they shouldn’t.
The trick is to analyze whether the new opportunity makes strategic sense for your nonprofit. Here are 5 questions to help you:
- Does it fit our strategic direction? You don’t want a strategic plan that sets in stone your organization’s future course, particularly given the tremendously volatile world in which we now live. So if your strategic plan is a good one, you’ve created filters for analyzing new opportunities. If this new opportunity fits within those filters that’s great, but you still need to determine what resources you will reallocate in order to do this new thing.
- Does it fit our core competencies? Even more important than your strategic direction, this new opportunity must play to your strengths. If you excel at running a pre-K reading program, a new math program might not be a good fit. Included in this question is the follow up: Could someone else do it better? If so, let them. Focus on what you do best.
- Is someone pushing this because of their own interests? Let’s face it, nonprofits are made up of many people, some of whom have their own individual interests or pet projects. But once you start following one of those individual interests instead of the interests of the organization as a whole you are in big trouble. Take a step back and make sure this new opportunity is really going to get the organization further.
- Do you want to do this because of your own baggage? Leaders are only human, and we humans all have our weaknesses. Sometimes when a nonprofit leader is making a critical decision some of their personal baggage gets in the way. Perhaps you are afraid of how you will look to your peers if you don’t pursue this opportunity, or maybe you want to keep your fiercest competitor from gaining turf, or perhaps you have a really hard time saying no. Whatever it is, you need to recognize when your baggage, instead of smart strategy, is calling the shots.
- Will this new opportunity further your mission or long-term financial sustainability? If it’s not about mission or money, why are you doing it? Don’t get caught up in vague ideas about “community goodwill.” You will achieve community goodwill by working toward your mission effectively. And be careful about assuming any potential money is a reason to pursue an opportunity. Not all money contributes to the long-term financial sustainability of the organization. Make sure that this new opportunity doesn’t cost more than it brings in.
Nonprofits should not fear new opportunities. Indeed innovation, which the sector so desperately needs, requires a real openness to change and risk. However, nonprofit leaders must take a disciplined approach to making new opportunities part of their overall strategy.
Photo Credit: mytmoss
It amazes me how board members can sometimes stand in the way of the nonprofit for which they are supposedly the chief supporters. And the executive director can be incredibly lonely when she sees, but the board does not, what the organization desperately needs.
This is often true with a strategic plan, which I believe is absolutely critical to a nonprofit’s success. Without an overall strategy, a nonprofit is relegated to the world of “doing good work,” instead of the world of “making a real difference.” And these days more and more funders, supporters, advocates, partners and decision makers are requiring that nonprofits do more than just good work.
So what is an executive director to do when her board of directors doesn’t want to invest time, effort and resources into creating an overall strategy? Get tough and tell your board what a strategic plan will do for you:
- It Will Bring Us More Funding. Donors will give bigger and longer-term gifts if they understand where an organization is headed and how they will get there. It is getting harder and harder to convince a donor to give based on goodwill or good works. You now need to convince a donor that 1) your organization is uniquely positioned to deliver a solution to a social problem and 2)you have a strategy to get there.
- It Will Put Our Staff to Their Highest and Best Use. Staff will be more engaged, invested and productive if they understand the bigger picture and their individual contribution to it. A good strategic planning process gets staff engaged and invested in the organization and helps them understand their unique contribution to its goals.
- It Will Get Our Board Moving. Without a strategy to guide them, a board of directors becomes a loosely linked group of volunteers who show up a handful of times a year to nod and slap each other on the back. If you really want to marshal this potential army and leverage all the resources, expertise, networks and mind-share they could bring, you have to give them a broader vision and purpose for their work. A good strategic plan gets a board both excited about the big picture and committed to their role in making it happen.
- It Will Bring Us Financial Security. A good strategic plan forces an organization to analyze and develop a comprehensive, long-term financial model for the organization. Without a long-term strategy for mission AND money you will continue to ride the hamster wheel of never having enough. And that’s exhausting.
- It Will Ensure We Create Change. Without a strategy you will end up somewhere, but it’s probably not where you wanted to be. A well-thought out strategic plan that begins with an articulation of the social problem(s) your nonprofit is trying to solve and how you work to solve it ensures that you get there. Without a strategy you will do a lot of work and use a lot of resources but may never actually create change.
It is really too bad that the words “strategic plan” have become so abused in the nonprofit sector that some board members are instantly turned off when the topic arises. To be sure, there are many bad strategic plans out there. But those nonprofit organizations that invest the necessary time and resources to create a really good strategy will be the ones that create lasting change.
You can learn more about Social Velocity’s strategic planning process here.
Photo Credit: Tambako
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