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Showing posts from October, 2008

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 Kor

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

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 provid

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 f


The October 2008 briefing at focuses on how businesses can think about providing their customers with   “genuinely interesting and unexpected benefits and privileges that will delight some or all” of them.   Trendwatching calls this PERKONOMICS, and for a growing number of businesses, it goes well beyond access to a fancy airport lounge. PERKONOMICS: A new breed of perks and privileges, added to brands' regular offerings, is satisfying consumers’ ever-growing desire for novel forms of status and/or convenience, across all industries. The benefits for brands are equally promising: from escaping commoditization, to showing empathy in turbulent times. One to have firmly on your radar in 2009.   The museum industry has the ability to offer some pretty great perks, and some of the tried-and-true ones include behind-the-scenes tours, access to exhibitions before they open to the public, shop discounts and passport programs.   And then there’s fast-lane admit

Big Picture - Little Picture

I spent yesterday with an enthusiastic yet mired board and director of a small heritage organization. After doing a quick round of strengths/weaknesses about the organization, it became clear that many (most) of the weaknesses stem from one, big absent strength -- a clear vision and mission. Equally telling, no one noted that anything even approaching a long-range or strategic plan was a strength (they have one, too!). Here's a short list of this organization's symptoms (aka weaknesses):  can't seem to focus; can't seem to follow through on what plans there are; poor internal communication; committees don't function well or at all; uneven or weak leadership, etc.  You get the picture.  A  list like that can undo the good intentions of any board member or director. So, what to do?  Well, you can certainly start to address the symptoms.  But they are symptoms after all -- the underlying problem is still there.  So, I encouraged the group to take a two-pronged atta

Boards and Financial Uncertainty

I’ve been carrying around a letter to the editor that I ripped out of the May 26 th issue of Crain’s New York Business.   The letter by Chief Executive Gordon J. Campbell of the United Way of New York City is topped by this headline:   Nonprofit Boards Aren’t Piggy Banks:   Trustees Have Broader Duties .   It was written in response to an article about how nonprofit boards in NYC are scrambling for deep-pocketed trustees to help organizations weather this climate of financial distress. Much of the grousing I routinely hear from executive directors is about how their boards aren’t raising enough money no matter the financial environment.   This is a long-standing complaint.   There are a lot of board members out there who don’t give much – or at all – in the way of personal financial gifts nor do they actively work on behalf of the organization to seek financial gifts from others.   One prevalent response to this state of affairs is, “I give of my time.”   And yes, that, too, is

Futuring: Not Just a Game

" The difficulty in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, but to respond with yesterday's logic ." -- Peter Drucker The American Association of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums is asking the field to help it “build a picture of museums in 2019 and explore how the field can help society respond to the challenges we face” using Superstruct, the world’s first Massively Multiplayer Forecasting Game.  To receive e-mail alerts from the Center for the Future of Museums about the museum-specific storyline in Superstruct and to keep it up to date on your game activities, contact AAM at To read more about the game visit . To receive e-mail alerts from IFTF when Superstruct launches on September 22, e-mail . Futuring underpins anticipatory leadership and management – skills that are increasingly critical to organizational survival and success.   Futuring needn’t been far, far in the futu

How Large a Board? NYS Museums and Heritage Organizations Weigh In

For the last month, I’ve had a poll running on this blog asking folks to note the size of their nonprofit boards.   The overwhelming number of voters (80%) chose the 11-20 member category.   Ten percent have a board with ten or fewer members and 10% have a board with 21-35 members. This mirrors the results for the 2006 annual reports submitted to the NYS Education Department by chartered museums and historical societies. Of 801 institutions reporting boards of trustees, the average board size was 12 .    Forty-one institutions reported board with more than 25 people, ranging from 26 members to a high of 63. In prior years, the number is almost the same.  In 1998, the average size was 11. Paul Stewart, who serves on the board of the Albany, NY-based Capital District Underground Railroad Workshop , wrote, “Some organizations seem to like small boards and some large boards. What is the difference in what they accomplish? What other dynamics are there?   …it is clear that having