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Showing posts from April, 2009

Leadership Transition

If you're planning to attend the American Association of Museums conference in Philadelphia and you're interested in the topic of leadership transition, you might consider coming to the session, "Transitions:  An Ongoing Process of Leadership Renewal", scheduled for Sunday, May 3rd, at 2 pm.  I'm joining Patricia Williams, Interim Director of the Sewall-Belmont House, in what will be, I think, a fascinating discussion about one institution's approach to leadership transition. Hope to see you there. In the meantime, if you're looking for leadership transition resources, I unabashedly plug the website of the Museum Association of New York -- .  You'll also find the audio and PowerPoints from our two recent webinars on the subject.

Cliques on Boards

There's a propensity for like-minded folks to cluster together in group situations. When so many boards are comprised of people who know one another outside the board room (or may be related to one another) clustering  is common....and can be a common problem.  As we strive for greater diversity of board members, those who aren't from the same social or familial circles may find it especially difficult to break into the circle that is the board. The executive director, nominating committee and board president need to be mindful of clustering or cliques, and consciously work to minimize their effect.  The first rule of thumb is that everyone is diversely, but equally, skilled in the board room -- a tenet that needs to be voiced and modeled at every turn.  It is to the long-term advantage of the organization to institutionalize this democratic vision. There are several practical ways to minimize clusters: mix up the seating at meetings.  Humans, being who they are, tend to sit wi

Too Small to Succeed?

Today's post title is a riff on that oft-heard recession phrase, "too big to fail". A recent meeting about saving an historic property, followed closely by a visit with a very small cultural organization, got me to thinking about the basic benchmarks for organizational success. We're learning more all the time about what it takes to create and grow a successful nonprofit. High on my list are: meeting a real (not perceived) need -- this isn't an ego or power trip having a plan to realize it right from the get-go -- many cultural nonprofits get too much of a free pass on this one from incorporating agencies visionary and unflagging leadership -- preferably from more than one person attracting people to the organization who have access to substantial resources, be it time, money, or people with time and money building a critical mass of supporters (a good, growable base right from the start) -- there are some umbrella organizations that require just that of satell

Merger: A Few More Thoughts

My last post focused on merger as an organizational growth option, not a last-ditch attempt to survive.  Sadly, it's often not considered an option until too late.  But it, along with its cousins collaboration and partnership, ought to be in every nonprofit leader's lexicon.  How does it make it into the ongoing conversation?  Here are a couple of thoughts: Every year, as an organization is evaluating or updating its strategic plan, part of the conversation should focus on where the organization is in terms of its "life cycle" and what its options are for continued health.  I think this kind of discussion goes hand-in-hand with planning, but it could be a stand-alone conversation, as well.  It may be a conversation that begins at the staff level, but at some point it must migrate to the board level.  Institutionalizing such a conversation is one way to enable people to become comfortable with the fluctuating-- and sometimes inscrutable -- dynamic that is the nonprofi

Merger is More than a Survival Tactic

Just like the daffodils in my garden this spring, a few stories about nonprofit mergers can be found offering bright respites from the reams of gloomy headlines about cultural nonprofits in trouble.   The Boston Globe's April 15th story about the successful merger of two social welfare organizations made the point that the notion of merger seems to be a relatively new concept in the nonprofit world.  From my vantage point, merger is generally not an option to be found in the toolkit of most cultural nonprofit leaders.  As the Globe article rightly points out, mergers tend to be seen as a sign of failure; nonprofit leaders worry that mergers mean loss of autonomy or identity.  Indeed, one Globe reader summed up the distaste many have for merger, " Social service agencies can more typically be combined without anything essential being lost; arts institutions exist to fulfill a certain artistic vision, and combining two similar size groups usually means one vision endures and th

What Does Your Board Recruitment Process Say About Your Organization?

This post is prompted by an email sent to me by my colleague Linda Norris, the inquiring mind behind The Uncataloged Museum .  The email included a link to a Craig's List listing from a nonprofit in search of board members.  The listing states, in part: Board Members will commit to meeting once every 2 months. They will be involved in decision making and guiding the direction of the organization. They will assist in fund raising events by establishing committees to plan particular events and initiatives.  Please respond by email with a little bit about yourself, where you live, and what interests you about [name of organization].  To learn more, visit [organization's website address]. Location: Hudson Valley, NY Compensation: Volunteer Work This is a part-time job. This is at a non-profit organization. Actually, that's pretty much the entire listing. It got me to thinking that despite the listing's brevity, it speaks volumes about the culture of this organization. Indee

Oops...That Was a Bad Decision!

Have any of you been part of or observed bad board decision-making?   I'm a great believer that there is wisdom in group decision-making -- it takes more time, sure -- but it's usually more informed and creative than decision-making by an individual. So, the mere thought of a board making a collective bad decision (and bad can run the gamut from just plain ill-informed to downright criminal) leaves me to wonder about the underlying dynamics of the group, as well as the ability of each member to put the well-being of the organization before all else. Having said that, I think that bad decisions get made when the will of one or two board members overrides the concerns of the others or when a majority of board members have mentally or physically 'checked out' of the discussion.  These are examples of group dynamics at their poorest. Bad decisions also happen when the information board members receive is of poor quality or is incomplete.  Since it's difficult, if not im

I Want to Serve on a Board (But No Board Seems to Want Me)

I can recall a handful of times when I was directly approached by a person asking to serve on the boards of institutions where I was on staff.  It always caught me off-guard.  I guess it's because that somewhere along the line it was instilled in me (or maybe just implied) that one waited one's turn to be asked; that one's talents would be recognized and thus, sought.  As a result, I'm always a bit wary of the person who openly declares their desire to serve on a particular board. Some of my reticence comes from knowing that there may be many criteria in use by the nominating or board development committee -- criteria that an eager volunteer may or may not meet.  The organization may be at a point where its current board needs to stabilize for a bit before adding new members or the current board might actually need to shrink in size.  The organization may have decided to wait on adding board members until its strategic plan was completed, knowing that the plan would sur

I Know I've Had a Successful Board Meeting When....

Those of us who work with and for boards inevitably amass a pile of good, bad and ugly meeting stories.  We could write a book!  Today, though, I thought I'd focus on the positive aspect of board meetings and try to answer the rest of the 'I know I've had a successful board meeting when...' sentence.  I hope you try to answer it as well and send your thoughts along to me. I know I've had a successful board meeting when  the bulk of our time together is spent on strategizing how to gain the greatest impact from our work, and everybody (or nearly so) gets the opportunity to participate I've come to this conclusion because I've sat through some (alright, many) meetings where the agenda is not much more than a series of updates given by one or two people (including myself!). Those meetings tend to be pretty lifeless and, frankly, don't make good use of the talent, insight and intelligence of the people around the table. My successful board meeting takes som