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Showing posts from 2010

Spark a Resolution for 2011

SOME THINGS HAVE A WAY OF STANDING THE TEST OF TIME.  That's why I'm dusting off this post from 2009 , because I think the ten resolutions I wrote about then still make good very good sense for 2011.  This time around I'd like to emphasize resolution #8:  get comfortable with change.  It's not just a clever catch-phrase anymore.  Today, it's as much about organizational survival as mission impact. While some folks will shrug their shoulders and say "change happens", others will be proactively using change to generate sparks.  You might think that making sparks is just so much wasted energy, but sparks light fires.  Shrugging change off doesn't even get the match lit. Head into your office on January 3rd with my list of resolutions or your own and see if you can make some sparks fly. Who will be your organization's change agent in 2011?  Will it be you? Photo:  desejo-lhes um santo 2011 - I wish... from Marcos Arruda

Nonprofit Governance Blogs

I'm so honored to be listed among Debra Beck's favorite governance blogs!  Check out the others on Debra's list: I'm in great company!  And Debra's blog is one of the best. Image:  Blogging 101 from martin.canchola

Making it Stick: What Strategic Planning All Comes Down To

JUST GOT OFF THE PHONE WITH A BOARD PRESIDENT who was checking in with me about the planning process his organization was wrapping up with me.  I told him what I had told the planning committee a week earlier at the end of our last meeting together, "Now the hard work begins.  You've got to summon the discipline to stick to this plan you've created." My advice wasn't just for the planning committee, although they were the only ones in earshot of my parting words.  Planning committees may think all they have to do is create the written document, and while that is the immediate goal, I think they also have the added responsibility (along with staff leadership) to figure out how to institutionalize it at the board level.  This is especially critical if this is the first plan the organization has ever produced or if the organization has previously failed at following their plans.  So, part of the planning committee's follow-through responsibilities include teachin

Fostering Good Board Ideas

IN HER RECENT BLOG POST "Where good (board) ideas come from" , Debra Beck links to a great video (you've just got to watch it) and poses the questions "Do we nurture breathing room and value insights shared amidst the rush to check reports off the agenda? Do we foster opportunities for good ideas inside board members' heads to make it to the surface so they can be connected?" Thoughts of inspirational discussions and deep-diving into issues that were cut short by a too-full agenda and not enough time came flooding over me as I read Debra's post.  Yes, I've been in those situations and I look back on them with mixed emotions knowing that some great conversations will never be rekindled and some organizational energy was lost. So, how can we build in time for idea generation, rumination, and synergy at the board and staff levels?  Here are some of my thoughts: It's counter-intuitive, but the space to spark and nurture ideas needs to be planned .

An "Aha!" Moment in Strategic Planning

WHEN DO "AHA" MOMENTS COME FOR YOU?  If they rolled up on your doorstep with unfailing regularity, you'd take them for granted.  They wouldn't elicit an "aha!" at all.  But real "aha" moments, for me at any rate, come after stretches of concerted problem-solving and reflection.  They more often occur as a prolonged unfolding of understanding rather than in one flash of insight. So it was with a strategic planning committee I'd been working with for months.  Our regular meetings were moving well through the obstacle course of mission refinement, goal development and strategy creation.  But it wasn't until we were buried knee-deep in strategies and tasking that some very forthright conversations started to take place. As the morning fog lifts from the landscape, this team began to articulate  -- as a group -- that its resources for at least the short-term had to be spent on strengthening its organizational core.  Board and staff development,

Should Vision Statements Be Impact Statements?

A KEY AND EARLY COMPONENT OF STRATEGIC PLANNING involves a critical review of an organization's vision and mission statements.  Most of the cultural nonprofits I work with have mission statements; few of them have vision statements.  I often refer to mission statements as the articulation of where an organization is now (and its importance for being, serving, and providing a public benefit) and the vision statement as the embodiment of the organization at some future point in time.  Sure, that's what visions are all about, but shouldn't they be about something more? That's where impact comes in and thanks to practitioners like Hildy Gottlieb and her Community-Driven Institute , the women of the Social Change Divas Daily and others, I really do think that the vision statement must answer this question:  if we consistently meet or exceed our mission, what will be our organization's impact on our audiences and our community?   Without long-term external impact, what&

Building the Trust Factor

A MUSEUM STUDIES CLASS IS ABOUT TO LAUNCH A planning process with a local historical society as part of a semester-long project this fall.  As a preliminary activity, one of the students (who is responsible for the outreach portion of the project) and I chatted yesterday about my take on organizational planning.  We covered a lot of ground and a lot of the basic elements of a solid planning process:  vision, mission, where do goals come from?; how much outreach can you suggest an all-volunteer organization do?; as well as the more mundane how much can you devote to this class project when you're a busy student with tons of other claims on your time? That aside, I encourage my grad student friend to spend considerable time at the beginning getting the board to engage in the emotion-based discussions about why their organization is important, who it serves and what impact it can make on the lives of its audiences, its neighborhood, and its larger community.  These are critical conver

A Scalable Recipe for Getting Out of Financial Trouble

THE ARTICLE I JUST READ ABOUT THE COLUMBUS SYMPHONY ending its season just a hair's breath in the black is cause for celebration in many ways.  As symphonies across the country struggle, merge or outright die, the Columbus Symphony turnaround is worth taking a look at.  What was the secret from going from a projected deficit of more than $1 million to a surplus of $200,000?  Were there lessons for the rest of us embedded in the experience? In a nutshell, here's what symphony leadership did: secured major corporate/foundation support, admittedly much of that was already in the pipeline, but the lesson here is that you don't give up on fundraising in a tough economy, you work the hell out of it secured municipal support -- a tough sell right now, but one likely built on strong economic arguments.  Do you know how much your cultural organization contributes to your local economy? If not, you're overdue in pulling that information together. musicians are now in their th

The Telltale Signs of Trouble

MY MENTAL LIST OF CULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS ABOUT TO GO UNDER was significantly lengthened this week.  Just yesterday a neighbor told me that a small environmental/ natural history research organization she works with was about to fold.  She was told that the board was casting around for a place to transfer the organization's collections of books, maps, photos and videos (although no one knows exactly where that will be despite the fact that they may have to shut their doors in a couple of weeks).   The day before that, a colleague called to say she was retiring from her organization and that there's a movement afoot to dissolve it (not her doing).  A third organization has burned through its endowment fund to the point where some board members think it's time to close the whole place down.   That's all in just the last week. I've been hearing for a long time that the pace of consolidations and dissolutions in the nonprofit sector would speed up as the recession deep

Poke Your Head Up and Ask

I'M IN LOVE WITH BENCHMARKING.  I love gathering data about organizations, but not simply for gathering's sake.  It's got to be focused information that can help to paint a picture about success (or the potential for success).  For me, benchmarking is a nifty tool that can help to answer two key questions every nonprofit needs to ask: 1)  how can I tell how my organization's doing until I start to compare it with similar or better organizations?  and 2) how can I know all that might be possible for my organization until I know what's out there already? Benchmarking is one way to get a handle on exactly this type of information.  It can be as simple as sending an email or as formal as making an on-site visit with a laundry list of questions for specific staff or board members.  What you find out can help you to place your organization on the great continuum of organizations like yours.  It gets you grounded and lets you know if your organization is at or near the top

Nonprofit Trends: Lost in Translation?

STARTING TODAY I'M SPENDING A BIG CHUNK OF TIME shifting the furnishings around in the nonprofit office where I work part-time.  My organization will soon be sharing space with another nonprofit in order to save a bit on rent.  The last time I had to share an office with others was almost 20 years ago and that was with a co-worker.  So, as much as I want to help the bottom line of my association, I'm a little worried about the personal workstyle adjustment I'm facing. I wasn't surprised, then, when I learned from a group of rural nonprofit leaders earlier this month that workplace sharing and consolidation are trends they're seeing on the horizon.  But, interestingly, no one knew of an organization that was actually doing it.  So far, it's just talk.  Almost in the same breath the group agreed that another trend is the demise of some nonprofits -- indeed, about three cultural organizations in their area were down for the count -- an arts council, an performing a

Getting Beyond the "Bored" Meeting

MY AUDIO/POWERPOINT SLIDES TO MY WEBINAR for NYS Arts on how to up the quality quotient for board meetings is available here . This webinar looks at some basics:  what board meetings should accomplish (and often don't), how revisioning an agenda can provide meaning as well as focus, and how dashboards, breakouts, facilitated discussions and conversation recorders can both deepen and expand understanding. Illustration:  The Boring Meeting from fourborne via Flickr

Board Recruitment: Still Missing the Mark

LET'S FACE IT -- IF FINDING COMMITTED, DYNAMIC AND FORWARD-THINKING board members was easy, you wouldn't be reading this post.  And I wouldn't have written about board recruitment as much as I have (see here, here , here , and here to list a few of the dozen or so posts I written on this topic).  I'm not the only one writing about it -- there are dozens of articles and book chapters devoted to it and plenty of workshops and webinars (OK, these are webinars I developed for NYS ARTS) available.  I like to think we might be making some headway on understanding that board recruitment is an ongoing process made up of interlocking pieces.  And, indeed, we are. Nevertheless, I was struck when a nonprofit leader in a focus group I conduct recently declared that, in her community, most nonprofits had no clue what the role of the nominating committee was and no understanding of how important this committee was to the long term health of their organizations.  Several of her col

You Get What You Deserve

MY COLLEAGUE LINDA NORRIS AND I HAVE a long history in the trenches of museum administration.  The post is really a tribute to her insight, which is that boards get the directors they deserve and vice versa.  It's a tough philosophy particularly when it refers to a negative relationship.  But, frankly, both of us have seen it played out in dozens and dozens of organizations.   It reminds me of what another colleague told me about a particular board that hired the same type of director over and over again and could never understand why they had a mess on their hands....over and over again.  What's that old saying? -- insanity is when you keep doing the same thing expecting to get a different result.  Boards who want to maintain tight control (or Machiavellian control) will generally seek a director they can control tightly.  They'll look for the passive personality, the blank slate, the eager to please.  Boards that embrace challenge with the understanding that it can lead

My Webinar: Building Your Board

The June webinar I conducted for NYS Arts titled, Fulfilling a Role or Just Filling a Seat? , is available for viewing and listening here .     I think it's full of practical tips, many of them I've written about over the last couple of years of Leading By Design , but the audio and my scribbling on the PowerPoint slides lends a certain animation that I simply can't achieve in my posts. Photo:  Executive Board Room Facility at...from SFO CP

Building a Board Recruitment Program

IF YOU WERE BUILDING A BOARD RECRUITMENT program from scratch, what would you make of it?  I think I'd start with two pieces of information:  a board job description and a criteria list for the skills and attributes I need around that board table. The job description would give me most all the information I'd need to approach a prospect to discuss board service.  I'd consider it my script for the conversation.  It would include all the expectations my organization would expect of a board member and it would include what the board member could expect from the organization. The criteria list would be my road map to the people I'd be sharing that job description with.  As I've written about in other posts ( here , here and here ) it's knowing what I've got to work with and what I need that sets me up for my search of the who's.  Without this data, I could just ask any passing stranger if she or he had interest in joining my board.  I could just paper the

Prospecting for Board Members: Map That, Too!

IN MY LAST POST I WROTE ABOUT mapping your current board.  Let's go to the next step and think about how this same type of mapping can be used to identify skills and attributes needed to add to a board.   Your map might begin with a simple list of these skills and attributes -- a list that is drawn from discussions about your organization's vision, mission and values, from your strategic or long-range plan, from a board self-assessment and/or from writing a statement about what your ideal board would look like. As I've written about here , this exercise sets you (and your nominating or board development committee) up for moving your search from the "what" to the "who" -- the people who might fill your skills/attributes requirements. Some of your primary candidates might be found among your members, your volunteers, your corporate underwriters, and any number of people your organization interacts with every day.  But other prospects may be more removed...

"I Can See it Now!": Mapping Your Board

IF YOU WERE TO MAKE A MAP of the to make a map of the diversity, skills, attributes and networks each of your board members brings to your organization's table, what would it look like?  A board's combined talents form a profile that may be well-understood or barely perceived.  And we should all know that what a group thinks of itself may not be anything like what others might think. For a number of years I've used, and encouraged my client organizations to use, a simple chart to inventory these important elements.  Yesterday, I sat with an executive director and the chairperson of her organization's nominating committee and watched them complete just such a chart.  They inventoried gender, race, age, profession/avocation, skills brought to the organization, how each person is active in the organization, and what each person can help the organization accomplish. It revealed obvious characteristics (average age is about mid-50s to 60); it also revealed some not-so-obviou

Board Recruitment: Look for the What, Not the Who

BOARD RECRUITMENT IS SERIOUS BUSINESS.  Or it should be.  Now more than ever, our nonprofits need engaged, forward-thinking leadership.  Our nonprofits need board members who are willing to use a continual loop of strategy and feedback to define and shape mission, relevance and community connectedness.  To be content with board members who are ONLY interested in slices of an organization's mission is not enough.  Board members have to want to embrace the whole enchilada, because they understand that a nonprofit's impact is more than the sum of its parts. Nominating or board development committees need to sharpen their recruitment skills to laser-like precision.  Recruitment no longer begins with the question, "who do we know?", but with "what skills or access do we need?"  If you don't know what you're looking for, you're liable to accept any who .  That worked decades ago when boards were merely extensions of wealthy social clubs.  There's n

Oxygen for the Organizational Brain

THIS WEEK, NONPROFIT CONSULTANT MARION CONWAY is running a series of articles on her blog about the importance of board retreats .  She's giving you all the best insight on why to do them and how to do them; she's even sharing sample agendas!  So you've got to check that out. I consider the board retreat oxygen for the organizational brain .  It provides space and time to breathe and think deeply about the organization's health and well-being.  As I've written elsewhere , the coming together of boards, staff and volunteers can be a bonding experience that can move an organization to new levels of achievement.  And taking time to breathe and think deeply can clear away the cobwebs and refocus everyone on the mission and the impact. Most regular board meetings just can't do that very well.  With their agendas and often rigorous timeframes, getting the chance to even take a breath, much less a deep one, is almost impossible.  You've got to create separate spa

The New Ventures Think Tank: Why Your Organization Needs One

BRAINSTORMING SESSIONS HAVE A WONDERFUL WAY OF invigorating people.  It's exciting and, yes, liberating to contemplate future accomplishments, even if they're too lofty to achieve.  Cultural organizations are full of creative people with lots of ideas -- big ideas, too -- but few have a structured means of capturing them and funneling them into workable actions.  This is especially true when it comes to developing earned income strategies.  Beyond the typical mix of nonprofit fundraising activities, who's routinely minding the store when it comes to creating opportunities for long-term self-sufficiency beside the director? I recently met with the executive committee and director of an historic site with a massive physical plant.  Almost three-quarters of current income comes from earned income and much of that is from for-profit activities, such as apartment rentals and lease of space to for-profit business.  Their efforts to come up with ideas for income-generating venture

Executive Committees Walk a Fine Line

WHEN I READ THIS TWEET " The only board members who like the exec. comm. are the ones who are on it!" I had to admit I agreed with it.  Afterall, what's the point of serving on a board if all the important and interesting discussions and decisions are had by a few leaving the rest of us to suffer through report meetings?  Who wants to be just another pretty rubber stamp? Executive committees walk a fine line.  Typically consisting of the board's officers, they are often indispensable in times of crisis.  Big organizations with big boards quite rightly find that smaller "steering" committees serve important oversight functions.  In this instance, the make-up may go well beyond officers to include committee chairs and others (and the size of a steering committee could be as large as a small full board).  But as a routine decision-making body acting on behalf of the full board, an active executive committee can alienate or isolate the rest of its board. I have

The Meaningful Outside

I JUST FINISHED READING THE REPORT from two focus groups conducted by one of my cultural clients.  This client, like many of my clients, had never talked with constituents in quite this way before.  It's funny that a concept so basic to the for-profit world is so largely overlooked by the nonprofit world -- at least in the cultural corner.   I've even had clients tremble with fear at the thought of talking to stakeholders about what their nonprofit does.  In one case, a client was barely able to identify a group of "non-member" community leaders to invite to a focus group.  Despite all the talk about how the current economy is forcing nonprofits to rethink their work and their relationships, many, it seems, remain in a curious bubble of isolation. The two focus groups in question raised a wide array of perspectives about my client -- a lot of it good; some of it critical.  Some of it, I'm sure, is well known to the client.  Others of it might be complete revelatio

Younger Minds Attract Younger Audiences*

IF "YOUNGER MINDS ATTRACT YOUNGER AUDIENCES" isn't your institution's mantra, you should seriously consider making it so.  Not just for staff and volunteers, I'm thinking this needs to be your board's mantra, too.  That's particularly true for well-established, highly structured cultural organizations presenting traditional programming formats. You know these organizations; you may work or volunteer in one. While we read about the graying of audiences for some cultural activities, I'm wondering how gray the board and senior staff are.  Do you think there's a distinct correlation?   Younger minds do more than attract younger audiences.  They keep the cobwebs at bay.  They help us question accepted practice and remix familiar elements to make new connections.  And they are the fundamental bridges to our organizations' futures. Some organizations utilize "junior boards" for folks under 40 to try out their chops.  If you shine there, you&

Working Together Doesn't Just Happen

I'M THINKING ABOUT TWO GROUP EXPERIENCES I'VE ENCOUNTERED IN RECENT DAYS: one is a planning team for a professional development program and the other is the board and staff of a historic site that has entered a new phase of independence.  Both groups are in the throes of creating something new; both have many voices around the table.  But, one experience has been a struggle at almost every turn while the other was a high-energy, highly focused (even fun) effort.  How come so different? Group work is shaped by several common elements, but how they're addressed and tended to can lead to quite different -- even deleterious -- results.   Who's at the Table:   Anything you read about effective collaborations underscores the importance of having all the major stakeholders at the table.  It's incredibly important to take the time to put this group together and to give them an opportunity to get to know one another.  That's especially true when you've got a disparat

Building a Plan Layer by Layer

LET'S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING THAT'S THEORETICALLY very simple:  the architecture of a plan -- you know, that written thing that's supposed to help guide your activity.  It doesn't matter if we're creating a plan to manage a project or a plan to reinvent an institution, the architecture of it ought to be pretty much the same.  In its most basic, stripped-down state, a plan is a hierarchy of information, built up in layers like the foundation of a house.   The "house", which the foundation supports, is the result the planner is seeking to achieve.  For the project manager it's completing an activity on time and on/under budget.  For the institutional re-inventor it's about articulating and achieving a new vision or a renewed mission.  I typically use three different kinds of informational layers in building a plan:  1) broad overarching goals shaped by mission and understandings of external needs and realities; 2) sets of focused activities that, ov

Audience Development: Not Just a Marketing Issue

THERE ARE TWO COMPETING REALITIES IN PLAY for arts and cultural organizations that don't seem to be destined for resolution any time soon, and they both have to do with audience.  The first is the fact that for many traditional cultural activities, audiences and volunteerism are declining.  The second has to do with a perpetual lack of resources most arts and cultural organizations dedicate to ongoing audience development, retention and loyalty-building.  The American Association of Museums' reports in its  Museum Financial Information 2009  that museums with separate marketing budgets dedicate anywhere from 2 percent to 8 percent of annual expenses, depending on total organizational budget, to promoting attendance, memberships or products.  The lower end of the range likely doesn't include personnel.  Bottom line:  museums spend on balance $1.29 per visitor per year to get them in the door, on the membership rolls or purchasing from the shop.   The Theater Communicatio