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Is The Board You Have The Board You Need?

Is your board Building a companyin a rut?  Year after year, boards recruit new candidates to fill the roster.  Three members finish their terms and three enter to take their places.  Filling those slots is a part of the routine, and often the process changes little from year to year.   Following the process will keep the board table full, but doesn’t your organization deserve more than that?

Think back over that last 5 years.  How is your community different?  How has your organization changed to meet the needs?  Perhaps your staffing has changed with new priorities, but has your board? Before you even begin recruiting for those 3 board slots that have to be filled by the annual meeting, take a deep breath and a step back.

If you were building your board today, based on the organization’s plans for the future, who would you be looking for?  What kind of board do you need if you are:

  • Making program changes that need to be explained to the community
  • Planning a 3 million dollar capital campaign
  • Creating policies and processes for a more formal structure
  • Developing a new brand
  • Rebuilding after some challenges
  • Creating the first planned giving program
  • Implementing a community engagement plan

Now, before you start your recruitment, is the perfect time for a board discussion on what it will take to move forward, how the current board sees its role in the plan and what kinds of people are still needed.  If you are making a major shift in direction, this may also be an opportunity for individual board members to decide whether they are still a good fit.

Last year, several board members, including me, chose to step down from the board of a local youth organization that was making a shift from providing programs to developing a teen facility.  We had struggled through several financially challenging years, and even considered closing the doors.  Despite our love for the organization, we were tired.  We helped create the groundwork for development of the facility and then stepped aside so that new, passionate and engaged leadership could emerge.  This week our community will be celebrating their grand opening!

While board change is usually not that dramatic, adding new members who see the vision and are excited about reaching for it can energize the whole group.  And isn’t that what your board, your organization  and your community deserve?

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Board Recruitment: What’s Your Culture?

CPA  –  ChCheck mark concepteck

Well known in community – Check

Would make a great treasurer – Check

Probably has money to commit – Check

Came to our event last year – Check

If your board recruitment process looks like this, we need to talk!  Over the years I’ve seen many boards tick through a checklist and invite candidates to join based on assumptions about their willingness to serve and ability to donate.  Whether you have a solid recruitment process or come from the “I’ll ask my neighbor” school of board building, there are some factors you may want to consider.

Taking time to consider the current culture and personality of your board is a great place to start.  A high paced mover/shaker board may get a lot done, but be an uncomfortable fit for someone with quiet leadership skills.  A grassroots start up may have a loose structure that some candidates would find chaotic.  When you think about your current board ask yourself:

How does your board define leadership?  When the board talks about new directors there are often qualities they are looking for like reputation as a fundraiser, strong leader or team player.

How does the board work together (or not)? Think about what this board has done in the last year and what contributed to their success or undermined their plans.

Does your board welcome diversity? Adding a new stakeholder is only the first step in creating diversity.  How different characteristics, beliefs and experiences are engaged and used to shape the discussion says more about the board’s attitude toward truly developing diversity.

How does your board deal with conflict? Board conflict isn’t always readily apparent, and is an issue most boards would prefer to ignore.  Think about how the board has handled difficult situations between members or differences in values and priorities.

If your board has never discussed these questions, you aren’t alone.  Expectations of board leadership and conduct may be informal or unspoken.  If the board isn’t ready to have this discussion, what are some indicators of board culture that would be important in engaging new directors.

How long are your board meetings?  I’ve known boards that prided themselves on 1 hour meetings and others that were happy to spend 3-4 hours mulling over decisions.

What is the meeting style?  Does your board always use Robert’s Rule including a parliamentarian or is your structure more informal?

What presidential style is expected? Are your presidents known for cracking the whip to get things done, or for being collaborative and engaging?

How are decisions made?  Think back over the last year and how decisions were reached. Think about who led the discussion and was involved in the discussion.  Some boards thrive on participatory decision making and others rely on the officers for guidance.

Understanding your current board culture is only one step toward inviting new directors to join in your mission.  In the next blog post, we’ll look at your goals for the organization’s future and what kind of board and board culture will be needed to take you there.


Board Candidates: Who Are They Really?

Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: ThImagee Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking has had me thinking recently about the importance of recruiting both introverts and extroverts to your board.  As Cain points out, introverts tend to be more reflective and think in terms of “what if”, while extroverts are more action oriented and think in terms of “what is”.  Both can bring valuable qualities to your board’s ability to govern.

One way to get a feel for the personal qualities and leadership style of your board candidates could be in the interview process. The types of questions you ask can provide insights about their expectations, strengths and hopes regarding board service.  Typical board interviews tend to focus on topics like knowledge of the organization, time availability and willingness to donate.  Those are important questions, but they aren’t the only ones you may want to consider.

What kinds of question might lead you to more in-depth discussions about shared values, life experience, leadership philosophies and teamwork?  Digging deeper can give a much better picture of who the candidate is, and whether this is a good fit for them and the board.

Some of my favorite questions include:

How do your personal values match up with those of the organization? (Make sure they have the organizational values ahead of time)

What do you do for enjoyment? (Is it with other people or solitary?)

If you’ve served on a board before, what was the most rewarding part of that experience?  What was most frustrating?

What are the most important values you live your life by? How have they helped make difficult decisions?

What talents or skills would you like to share that no one asks you to?

What is the best way for you to learn new skills?

An ideal meeting is……………………….

Can you tell me/us about a successful collaboration you’ve been a part of and what made it successful?

What is the board’s most important responsibility to the community/region/state/nation/world?

Tell me about a time there was conflict within a group/board and how you handled it

What excites you about working with this organization?

This list is by no means complete, but merely a starting point for conversation.  Think about your current board, your organization’s goals and vision for the future.  What would you want to know about, and from, board candidates to balance and strengthen your board in meeting those goals?

Great questions, experiences or insights to share?  I’d love to hear about them!


All I Ask

This blog post is written in response to the invitation of this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival to write an anonymous letter to board volunteers about something that bugs you.  This is for those quiet volunteers who have so much to contribute.

Dear Board Members,

I’ve been sitting on your board for a while and just don’t feel like I fit in.  When you invited me to apply for board membership, I was excited.  I’ve seen the wonderful work you do in our community and Happy Diverse Business Grouppersonally know people whose lives you’ve touched.  I was honored that you thought I had something worthwhile to contribute.

Now it seems like I’m not what you are looking for.  I didn’t rush to chair a committee or volunteer to be an officer.  I wanted some time to understand how the board works, and where I could best be of service.  I like time to review the board packet and prepare for upcoming discussions.  It is important to me that we have policies in place that protect the organization and the board. I want to spend time planning for the future and setting checkpoints so we know we are on course.

The things that matter to me don’t seem to be important to the rest of the board.  At too many meetings we make rushed decisions based on a quick verbal report.  A couple of take charge members always dominate the discussion.  I don’t share my opinions, as I’ve learned that differences in viewpoint aren’t valued and the loudest voice often wins.  When I did speak up to suggest a board retreat for future planning, most of the board thought it was a waste of time.  I didn’t make that mistake a second time.

It’s obvious to me now that you don’t know who I am and what my strengths are. I have to wonder if you even care. My calm, confident exterior and history of leadership and community involvement led you to believe I’m like you, but I’m not.  I don’t define success in terms of how many fundraising events we put on this year, which movers and shakers sit on the board, or how much recognition we receive.  I define success as using our extensive skills, knowledge and passion for the mission to help more people and build a stronger community.

Have you ever wondered why people resign from the board and move on like I’m going to?  Even if you asked them they wouldn’t tell you the truth.  It’s easier to just walk away and not rock the boat.  How different it might be if board diversity didn’t just apply to visible characteristics like race and gender.  What if diversity also included the go-getter, the detail obsessed, the dreamer, the practical doer, the out-going and the introvert?  What if we learned to truly value the strengths, and differences, each of us bring to this volunteer board?  What if we worked together to give our best and feel the rewards of investing our time in a meaningful way?

It soon will be recruitment season again.  I hope you will take time to really think about what this organization needs to fulfill its vision for the community.  I hope you will take time to ask questions about shared values and what board candidates want to contribute.  Most of all I hope you will work to create a board culture where all views and voices are welcome at the table.

That’s a board I would like to be of service to.


An Ex-Board Member

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The End of an Era or a New Beginning?

In December, a 30 year old youth organization in our community, Havasu for Youth, announced that they were struggling to keep their doors open.  Deep funding cuts from city government and United Way had reduced the operating budget by half.  The strong and supportive community efforts just were not enough to maintain cash flow.

This story is not unique to our community.  Organizations across the country have spent the last few years trying to weather the recession and survive, while need for services increased.  Some organizations closed, while others merged.  Some found opportunity in new partnerships or refocusing programs for greater impact

As a Board Director for Havasu for Youth, part of my job has been to ask tough questions:

  • Are we creating impact for the youth in our community?
  • Can we create sustainable impact with the resources available to us?
  • Who else is working with youth and can we partner?
  • If our program is not viable, how do we responsibly close down?

It is difficult to think of closing an organization, to which we have committed so much time and energy.  We hear the stories of how our programs have made a difference for middle school students who learned to cook, peer tutors who learned job skills while helping younger students, and youth we were able to play sports or dance thanks to scholarships.   Each new donation starts us thinking, that maybe we can sustain. Some potential partnerships offer tantalizing possibilities if they can be put in place quickly enough. The roller coaster of emotions is tough on the board and staff.

Have you ever been a part of making these decisions for an organization?  What questions did you consider?  How did you choose to move forward or say goodbye?

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Epic Thanks

I came here to my blog directly from making my donation to Epic Thanks http://epicthanks.org

Every year I make a donation to help support Epic Change been making a difference for children and their education, 2 things I am passionate about.  Each year at this time they give me the opportunity to share what I am thankful for and I love reading the outpouring of gratitude from all over the world.

This year I am particularly thankful for my family and the precious time we get to share.  It has been a long, tough year for us but we have survived together.  Together is truly the operative word – whether as an immediate or global family.  Together we can make change, share love and create a better world.




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And now for something completely different…

I haven’t written a word here in months.  Part of that was not my fault.  It has been a horrendous year for our family and only now are we getting back in to a routine.  It wasn’t even because I had nothing to say about Community Benefit organizations, because I always do.

The truth is, I also got stuck.  I intended to finish the series of articles for small organizations on the benefits of using a consultant.  Every time I got ready to work on it, I realized I needed to research.  Back burner again.  Today I got up and decided I’m moving on.  I may come back and work on the series at some point in the future.  Or not….

I’ve seen this same thing happen in Community Benefit organizations I’ve worked with.  Great ideas are started with enthusiasm and the best of intentions.  First steps are taken and then everything comes to a crashing halt.  It winds up on the ever growing task list where it will languish on the back burner and eventually fade away.

The difference between my blog debacle and what happens in Community Benefit organizations, is I chose to let something go that was not being productive.  When the decision is made by default due to limited staffing, limited dollars or competing priorities, important ideas are sometimes lost.

I’m a big fan of the “take a step back” school of prioritizing.  When I was an ED, at least once or twice a year our team would look at our current focus and the projects and ideas we would like to work on.  Starting with our vision for the future, we reviewed all of the choices for investing our time.  One of the most important questions in these kinds of sessions was, “What do we need to stop doing”.

Just continuing down the road because that’s where we were headed 2 years ago, didn’t mean that was where time still needed to be invested.  Some of those creative, time-consuming new ideas languishing on the back burner, were now just what we needed.

For today, I have decided it is time to begin anew with this blog and see where the writing takes me.  Hope some of you decide to come along for the journey.