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Showing posts from 2014

Five Questions for the New Nonprofit Board Member

IS 2015 THE YEAR YOU JOIN A NONPROFIT BOARD?  Perhaps you've been thinking that board service would be a great way to give back to your community or perhaps you've decided to give in to your best friend's pleading to join her board.  Whether you're giving back or giving in, don't waste any time in asking these five questions:

1.  Am I comfortable with group work?  

Everything you read on nonprofit governance casts it as group work: deliberation and decision-making as a team; working with and through committees; and working to consensus.  If you're the lone wolf type, preferring to tackle problems and projects on your own, you'll find group work difficult, even drudgery.  So, if you're intent on joining a board know that the group trumps the individual.  Yes, your individual skills, opinions, and talents are needed and will be welcomed (hopefully), but when it comes to execution, it is the group that will capture the flag.

2.  Where will my skills and inter…

What Would You Do With a $$ Windfall?

RECEIVING A SUM OF MONEY UNEXPECTEDLY (or half-expectedly) isn't as unusual as it may seem in the nonprofit world. It often comes in the form of a bequest, but it might just as often come as a year-end gift from a loyal member.  Sometimes, it's a grant few thought the organization would ever be competitive enough to get.  Or a local corporation or government acknowledges the efforts of a nonprofit that is making the community a better place.

The question that gets some organizations tied up in knots is how to make the best and most efficient use of these funds.  We all dream about how we'd put a few thousand bucks to use if it were to arrive on our doorsteps, but when actually faced with a check in one's hands, the dreams may be...well... too dreamy.  Where should it go, if the donor hasn't stipulated a place for it to land?

The director of a small cultural nonprofit asked me this question.  After several years of increased attendance and program income, should a new…

Stagnant or In Motion: What's Your Nonprofit's Mission?

WHAT'S SO IMPORTANT ABOUT A NONPROFIT'S MISSION STATEMENT ANYWAY?  A recent exchange of emails with a museum client about their mission statement underscores the potential they can play in a nonprofit's growth and development.  I've been encouraging this client to go beyond the usual, inward-focused litany of activities that virtually every museum in the world cites as their mission.  Yes, museums collect and preserve stuff.  But if that's all they did, they'd be more like mausoleums than museums.

The museum director and his staff have had several robust discussions about what the museum does and the audiences they serve.  It's clear from their conversations that the museum is much more than a place full of stuff.  There's meaning and resonance there, too.  Sorting through that has been both an intellectual and emotional exercise.

Museums are not the only victims of tepid mission statements.  There are plenty of nonprofits of all stripes that hew to a lit…

The Nonprofit Director's Skill Set: One Group's Opinion

THIS SUMMER I'M LEADING AN ONLINE COURSE in museum administration -- a new venture offered by the American Association for State and Local History.  The small band of participants -- most not museum administrators, by the way -- are being treated to the basics of nonprofit organization spanning how museums are founded to issues of leadership.  

The most recent lesson explored the complex and sometimes competing roles of the museum director.  A director has allegiances to both the governing board and the staff requiring continual alignment of priorities and mitigation of distances between the two.  A director also has allegiance to her vision for organizational health, sustainability and excellence.

Add to that the fact that as an organization develops, its leadership needs will change.  What worked for the start-up may be too informal and inefficient for a more mature organization.  The director's role, therefore, is not only played out vertically and horizontally, it's also…

When the Board Wastes the CEO's Talent

A RECENT CONVERSATION ABOUT WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE for ongoing member communications at a nonprofit got me thinking about how boards can, often quite unintentionally, waste their CEO's talent and, in turn, the talent of bright, committed staff.  Boards can waste their own talent, too, but that's the subject for the next post. 

In this conversation, some board members argued that it was the role of the board to review and approve every word the organization relayed to its membership.  Others differentiated between "strategic" communications -- issue briefs, advocacy alerts, statements on future organizational directions, for example -- and "informational" communications, such as event promotion, volunteer or donor recognition, and activity recaps.  Clearly, the substance of the communication seemed to be one (if not the) determining factor in when the board would involve itself in message development and approval. 

However, we didn't get to that understanding…

That's Just the Way We've Done it Around Here

MAKING CHANGE IS TOUGH.  EVEN THE TINIEST OF CHANGES CAN OFTEN MEET THE LARGEST OF HURDLES. I recall meeting some serious resistance when I suggested that a nominating committee take an inventory of board member skills and attributes in an effort to help it think more holistically about filling existing gaps.  I thought that was a pretty easy one, but some members of the nominating committee didn't think it was a good idea at all and refused to participate.  

Or the time an organization decided not to seek external input for its planning because it didn't want to raise stakeholder expectations beyond what it felt it could deliver.  Or the many times the hard won work of a strategic planning process fell by the wayside as organizational attention was lured away by yet another new, shiny object.  

All of my examples of change have the potential to raise fear, mistrust, or anxiety about any new approach or philosophy.  And that's the typical reaction of many (myself included fr…

Forward Guidance for Nonprofits: Where is it Taking You?

THE TERM 'FORWARD GUIDANCE' IS USED BY central banks to influence market expectations about the future levels of interest rates.  Banks do this by forecasting where markets will go and communicating their forecasts to businesses, governments, and the public.  I can see I've really grabbed your attention now.  But wait -- I'm going somewhere with this concept that has related, but not necessarily financial, applicability to the nonprofit sector.

I'm intrigued by the phrase, which I admit I hadn't heard until recently.  I'm also intrigued with the idea of 'forward guidance' -- of articulating how something will turn out or could turn out based upon agreed-upon indicators, is (or should be) one critical component of planning for a sector as much as for individual organizational planning. 

As the chart above from the banking industry illustrates, forward guidance is a combination of calendar-based indicators and trends and outcome-based indicators and tre…