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Showing posts from 2008

Ten Resolutions for the New Year

Ah, a new year! A clean slate. A fresh start. An opportunity to set personal, professional and organizational goals to work toward the coming twelve months. I'll leave the personal and professional goal-setting up to you, but I would like to get you thinking about tackling some basic activities that are guaranteed -- yes, I said guaranteed -- to strengthen your organization and renew your commitment to your mission. Here's my top 10 list of organizational resolutions for 2009: 1. Review your mission out loud at a board meeting or members' meeting. Get some discussion going about what your mission means (or is supposed to mean). Does your activity reflect and support your mission? If it doesn't what do you need to change to bring mission and practice into alignment? 2. Undertake a formal self-assessment of your organization's strengths and weaknesses. This exercise is an excellent springboard for discussions about organizational focus, mission, and practi

In Whose Best Interests?

Any nonprofit has a dual obligation:  firstly (and always so), to its constituents -- be they members, visitors, clients, congregants, students, patients, or colleagues -- and by extension, the larger community that sustains it -- and secondly, to keeping itself financially stable, programmatically vital, and future-focused.  Overlaying this for museums and heritage organizations is the equally daunting obligation to their collections, which they hold in trust for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.  In a way, it's a lot like the image I've chosen to accompany this post -- layered, complicated, and right about now, feeling a bit cold and lonely. It is the first of these obligations that has received great emphasis in nonprofit circles in recent years.  "Nonprofit boards owe their allegiance first to the community and only second to the organization," said Kelvin Taketa of the Hawaii Community Foundation in a 2003 Nonprofit Quarterly article entitled, A Gateway to

Problem-solving as a Deliberate Process

Action Learning/Research is an approach to problem-solving that was pioneered more than 60 years ago by social-psychologists, and it offers pathways for the 21st century nonprofit to explore issues more deeply and implement decisions based on the findings of these explorations. One pathway for problem-solving involves seven steps that require 1) an understanding and differentiating of information types; 2) delving through symptoms to get at root causes, which may then lead to important discussions of organizational values; and 3) developing criteria for impartial evaluation of potential solutions. The seven steps are: 1.  Identify the problem or issue. 2.  Analyze the problem:  is it an isolated issue or is it related to other problems?  Who is affected by it?  How is it handled now? 3.  Describe the problem in measurable, impartial terms. 4.  Look for root causes and causal relationships by asking "why?" at least five times. 5.  Develop alternative solutions, evaluating each

Governance Courage

Linda Compton, President and CEO of BoardSource, opened this year's Board Leadership Forum by citing a variety of implications this economic crisis will bring to nonprofit work.  She offers this challenge, as well: So, now, more than ever, we need courage as nonprofit leaders, as our organizations look to us for the way through these challenging times. Now is the time for board members to ask the courageous questions:  How do we respond to the new financial environment? How can we continue to carry out our mission? What changes do we have to make? And how can we best position ourselves to be ready when the recovery comes?   You can read her entire message here .

Required Reading for All Trustees and Directors

When it comes to stepping up to the plate, it doesn't make any difference if your institution is a small-budgeted organization running on volunteered energy or a large and complex cultural entity -- nonprofit boards and their leadership staff are responsible for the financial health of their institutions.  That they be held accountable for this basic tenet of nonprofit governance is what the LA Times art critic Christopher Knight's "open letter" to the board members of the Museum of Contemporary Art is all about. The Chronicle of Philanthropy states, "Writing in the  Los Angeles Times,  Mr. Knight — who notes that in 1998 the museum operated with a $50-million endowment, now rumored to have shrunk to $7-million — says the trustees “must call an urgent board meeting, gather round the table, pull out your checkbooks and calculators, and stay in that room until you have cobbled together at least $25 million.” He suggests this act be followed by budget cuts and the c

Get into Turnaround Mode

I’ve added another blog to my list after discovering it for the first time earlier this week.    Balancing the Mission Checkbook is  written by Kate Barr, the Executive Director of the Nonprofit Assistance Fund in Minneapolis, and she covers a broad range of leadership topics, but particularly focuses on financial management issues. Here’s an excerpt from one of Kate’s October 2008 posts where she suggests that nonprofits ought to address this period of economic uncertainty in much the same manner as they would address an organizational turnaround – that is, boldly, with a plan and with determination to follow it. Brandeis University Press has just published The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations by Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. A short excerpt from the book is available from The Chronicle of Philanthropy . Kaiser offers ten basic rules for every turnaround: 1.  Someo

It's Nice to be Nice to the Nice

Beth Kanter is one of a handful of authorities who’s actively engaged in using social media in the nonprofit arena and writing about it daily on her blog.  I encourage you to check out her Beth’s Blog , which is jammed packed with great information and ideas, especially if you’re unsure or even skeptical about the place of electronic networking in your institution. Beth recently blogged about the Center for Nonprofit Excellence Annual Conference, where she presented a couple of sessions.   Her take on the conference keynote is valuable for all nonprofit leaders: The keynote was from Bill Toliver called "It's nice to be nice to the nice."  Some key takeaways: Your nonprofit can't continue to do a good job if it’s doing an average job of doing too many things. Nonprofits have a moral obligation to the highest quality work. Change your concept of what a campaign means.   Is there a better way forward?  You need to blend the best practices of marketing and socia

Managing Change: A Few Random Thoughts

How to make change without turning off the volunteers?  That was a question posed at the recent annual meeting of the Western New York Association of Historical Agencies in Buffalo. Since we humans generally tend to be change-averse creatures, I think that's a good starting point when considering how to approach change within organizations. Whether it's changing the paint color or the exhibits, the annual fundraising event or the number of standing committees, recognize from the outset that some folks will be down-right unhappy (and others merely perturbed). It's imperative to embrace those affected by a change with the process of decision-making and/or solution-finding.  Why?  Well, obviously, the more ownership a person feels in a decision, the more that person will support it.  And ownership is about having some sense of control.  Many people opt out when they feel they have no control over decisions, over change that is affecting them.   Easier said than done, however.

Organizational Darwinism

I'm off to Buffalo today with my Museum Association of New York hat on to attend the annual meeting of the Western New York Association of Historical Agencies. New York State is unusual in that it has four regional museum associations that primarily serve the history community -- historical societies and sites, history museums, archives, municipal historians, and related organizations and individuals. Two of the four associations have been around for several decades. I think the difference they've made in terms of capacity-building for the small and mid-sized organization is palpable. One of the sessions I'm participating in at this meeting is called "Getting Your [Organizational] House in Order", and I have an opportunity to talk about the types of policies that small museums need to have in place.  I've decided to structure my remarks around Alice Korngold's  article on, which I wrote about in an earlier post (October 25, 2008).  As Korng

Saying Goodbye is Never Easy

Asking a board member to leave.   Where does your organization draw the line on behavior that would precipitate a request for resignation?   Most nonprofits have attendance rules in their bylaws.   I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the impact of the chronically empty board seat and the insidious damage it can do to group dynamics and the ability to effectively govern (September 3, 2008). Beyond that, what else?   Criminal behavior, certainly.   What about the large, often gray area in between lack of participation and malfeasance?   And how are such dicey situations best addressed? A recent real-life example involved a board member independently taking staff to task regarding the intellectual content of an exhibition.   In doing so, this individual not only overstepped the universally accepted board role, prevailing scholarship was also called into question.    While the staff held their ground, it became clear that the actions of the board member were a significant e

Information for Decision-Making 101

In his 2005 book, Blink:   The Power of Thinking Without Thinking , Malcolm Gladwell examines the balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking and concludes that truly successful decision making is a balance between the two.    As in Gladwell’s other bestselling book, The Tipping Point , there are many insights and lessons for the nonprofit leader in Blink . Take the decoding and sorting of information, for example.   Having a deep knowledge of a topic, combined and honed with experience, allows some people to make seemingly snap interpretations or decisions.   Nonprofit leaders are expected to decode and sort an increasing array of nuts-and-bolts organizational information as well as possess subject matter expertise…and perform these skills in the shifting landscape of social and economic change.  The challenge for CEOs, particularly in the instance of board members who may not possess deep knowledge or experience about the organization for which they serve, is to provide

Boards and Financial Uncertainty Redux

Alice Korngold's blog entry -- The Market's Toll on Charitable Giving -- offers up a short list of straight-shooting recommendations for boards to take to heart, especially during tough economic times.  I think you'll agree that her list makes for an excellent standard no matter the external environment.  I've added a couple of action steps to each to get you thinking about how you might move forward.    Boards matter now more than ever before. You must get your board in order. This is no time for foot-dragging with board members who do not bother to attend board meetings, make contributions, or ask others for money.   Actions:  kick your Nominating Committee or Board Development Committee into gear -- ask them to do some serious analysis of who's bringing what to the table; review and revise trustee job descriptions; set aside time at board meetings or in a retreat to discuss issues of board member commitment and engagement. Now is the time for