Saturday, November 29, 2008

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.

Friday, November 21, 2008

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 crafting of a new strategic plan."

Sound familiar?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

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.  Someone must lead

2.  The leader must have a plan

3.  You cannot save your way to health

4.  Focus on today and tomorrow, not yesterday

5.  Extend your programming planning calendar

6.  Marketing is more than brochures and advertisements

7.  There must be only one spokesperson, and the message must be positive

8.  Fundraising must focus on the larger donor, but don’t aim too high

9.  The board must allow itself to be restructured

10. The organization must have the discipline to follow each of these rules

Photo:  San Francisco Freeze at Powell & Market by navid j

Sunday, November 9, 2008

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 social movement building.

Understand the difference between a database and a base of support.

Build a community around your nonprofit brand:

  • We must start putting our tireless values above emotion-of-the-month or campaign-of-the-year.
  • We must build a database of committed marathon runners, rather than emotional sprinters
  • We must help people see beyond the “what” and start looking at the “why”
  • Are you raiser of funds or agents of change?

Let's look at how social change happens

  • Social change only happens one way - Nothing ever changes until somebody motivates a critical mass of the right people to commit to that change.
  • Are you that somebody or are you looking to the right people or are you just doing the same old thing?
  • How many people do you need to reach a tipping point?  What sort of commitment do you need?  How to motivate people to sustain the level of commitment?

What must we do to be the catalyst?

  • Don't hide behind your elevator pitch
  • Understand your constituents belief system
  • Put yourself in the heads of the donors
  • Is there a solution to it?
  • What will you do with my money?    

Photo:  Tate Modern members room art4 by sara~

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

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.  Any decision involving stakeholder input will take longer to reach, simply because of the logistics of getting that input (not to mention in what new directions that input could take the process).  Knowing what change decisions require what kind of and how much stakeholder input is a leadership attribute worth developing.

Board and staff leaders have a responsibility to develop a change process that includes the folks most affected by it.  And to do so fairly soon in the process. While final decisions generally rest with leadership, the fact that others have had opportunities to participate in the process -- and are kept informed about the process -- are critical ingredients to keeping most everyone on board with the outcome.

That brings me to the notion of keeping people informed.  Certainly, there's such a thing as too much of it (just read my previous posts), but not enough of it is equally harmful.  Remember, nature abhors a vacuum.  Folks will make up information if there's no real information (or not enough of it) available.  When no one is talking, that's when the rumor mill fires up.

Chances are you'll always lose someone to change.  The folks who can't get on board with a change are not going to be happy staying anyway, so it's best to let them find a new relationship with your organization or find another organization.

Avoiding change for fear of losing volunteers or staff should not be the sole criteria.  Change is first and foremost about making better, stronger organizations.

Photo:  Editorializing on change by jcgr