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Showing posts from January, 2010

"sustainability does not = doing the same thing"

MY TITLE IS A QUOTE FROM Nelson Layag of CompassPoint, who commented on Rosetta Thurman's post about the future of nonprofit service/professional organizations. The whole discussion struck a chord with me, but that quote just leapt off the screen.   (The Andy Warhol quote I found on flickr is no slouch either.) If there's ever a time for nonprofits to seek new approaches and opportunities, I think this is it.  Much of what we've depended upon to sustain us -- audiences, donors, programs, endowments, networks -- are now dwindling or shifting or are far too narrow or shallow.  To approach planning for the next year or two with the idea that more of the same, but implemented with fewer resources, is somehow a sustaining tactic just seems like so much whistling in the dark.....or spitting in the wind. This morning I read about the perils of a west coast history museum that now, after more than two years of trying to sustain the loss of significant local government fun

When Internal Discordance Goes Public

YOU'RE READING YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER AND YOU come across this headline "Financial Woes, Board Defections Hurt Arts Center: Former board members question executive director's decisions."  Well, that's a little gut-wrenching (particularly if you work or volunteer in the nonprofit sector, or if you're an ED). How would you react?  You'd probably dig right into that article, wouldn't you?  Would you also ask yourself what the heck is going on that it's so bad to have made this kind of news? As you pick your way through the article it becomes clearer that taking the ugly stuff to the press is a symptom of more deeply rooted dysfunctionality.  Sure, we readers can see it in a instant -- the lid's just blown off a whole kettle full of long-standing problems: lack of internal communication (particularly between the board and the CEO) misunderstanding of roles and responsibilities (on either or both the board's and CEO's parts) misplaced

Planning and the 'Clear Idea'

I'M GETTING READY TO TALK WITH A GROUP OF BOARD MEMBERS and staff from African-American heritage sites about the importance of planning. My discussion is one small part of a full two-day immersion into all sorts of capacity-building topics. Much credit goes to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Northeast Regional Office for recognizing the need and pulling us all together. All of these sites have some level of historic designation, such as National Historic Landmark status and/or listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Some are newly formed and others have been around for a while. Almost all of them are small, with operating budgets below $50,000 a year.  They're all important to the histories of their communities and our country, yet I know there are days when they must feel as though they're swimming upstream. Few have done much, if any, formal planning. By 'formal' I mean writing a plan as a collective activity. A tiny numbe

Looking for Decision/Performance Measurement Tools? Here's a New Take

Eleanor Adams' report , Towards Sustainability Indicators for Museums in Australia , was released this month offering museums -- and all cultural institutions -- a set of pilot indicators built on a combination of economic, environmental and social factors.  "Whether they acknowledge it or not," Adams writes, "museums are inextricably linked to sustainability principles....However, most museums seem to be inherently unsustainable organizations." Certainly museums occupy huge environmental footprints, deemed by many directors of large and small institutions as "energy hogs".  But libraries and performance spaces aren't far behind in energy consumption and insatiable need for storage. How can -- should -- environmental sustainability shape vision and mission (and vice versa)?  They're inextricably linked, right?  Adams gets at this by remixing established programmatic and operational metrics with environmental impact indicators and clusterin

Dead Wood: Moving On

MY LAST POST CONCENTRATED ON SETTING the table for addressing the under-performing or non-performing board member.  At any given time, most boards have one or two members who struggle with engagement -- it's a natural part of the ebb and flow of board work -- but if it's a chronic predicament for your board, don't be content to look the other way.  In the long run, it's not helpful to the individual or the organization to do so.  As Anna Tegen noted in her post  here ,  board members run out of steam or lose focus.  In Anna's case, she's taking the initiative to find ways to re-engage.  For other, not so self-motivated people, their fate will be in the hands of their board peers to figure what's going on and what to do about it. The Options:  Stay, Shift, Off Of course you always have the option of doing nothing.  But is that really an option ? Once you've had "the conversation" , you've got several ways to go depending on its o

Dead Wood Continued

MY LAST POST LEFT YOU AT THE POINT OF determining why it's important for your organization to have a fully functioning board. I think that getting very clear on this -- even to the point of writing it down -- as a sort of board mission or vision statement -- will help all board members understand the board's role in leading and protecting a complex system of stakeholders, programs and services. This statement, along with a board job description outlining organizational expectations of board service and the criteria used to identify board talent, form the foundation for evaluation of board member performance. While some boards are more forgiving of extensive absences or cantankerous behavior, these and other idiosyncracies can ultimately affect effective governance and jeopardize "street cred". (I discuss the absent board member in more detail here .) So, another discussion might have something to do with how much a board can/will tolerate. These discussions cert

What to Do With Dead Wood on Your Board?

MY POLL ASKED WHAT ONE BOARD DYNAMIC YOU would change this year and the top response was "remove dead wood". For my first post on this topic I'd like to start with two obvious facts: 1) most boards have some non-performing or under-performing board members AND 2) most boards already have mechanisms in place for removing dead wood...or at least the non-attending dead wood. Those mechanisms are found in the Bylaws and perhaps in a board job description. Few boards, it seems, invoke these mechanisms, mostly out of fear of offending the offender. We end up side-stepping the dead wood, dancing around it, ignoring it, wishing mightily it would go away. Oh, and complaining about it. So, even though the dead wood isn't doing much, it's sapping the energy and focus of many others. (There must be a Law of Physics about this!) Where to start and how to implement? While removing dead wood is not the most pleasant of responsibilities, it does not need to be -- and s

What Would Make You Turn Down an Invitation to Join a Board?

THERE'S SO MUCH WRITTEN ABOUT RECRUITING BOARD TALENT, I thought I'd spend a little time thinking about it from the prospect's point of view. Clearly, there are boards where the line is long to get on them. But what would make you turn down an invitation? Here's a short list to get the conversation started: 1. You've had no prior exposure to the organization. Your immediate reaction is "did you pull my name out of a hat?" (Is that lady in the picture the head of the Nominating Committee?) Seems as though there must be a hidden agenda at work (like you're rich and once you become a board member you'll pour all your resources into the organization) or the organization is simply looking for any warm body to fill a seat. 2. The organization doesn't have a good reputation. There's something to be said for street cred. An organization that's floundering may be strengthened by your participation or you may find yourself sucked into

Change for Your Board in 2010: A Polling Update

WE'RE A DAY INTO MY LAST POLL (SEE RIGHT) AND the responses are clustering in two areas: 1) removing dead wood from the board and 2) using better/different tools to make decisions/evaluate performance. There are still six days left for your colleagues to cast their vote! In the meantime, those of you who are in need of tools for decision-making might want to check my posts on taking stock here , here and here .

The Healthy Side of Conflict

I REMEMBER WELL A MEETING WHERE A COUPLE of board members engaged in a passionate exchange that left some of us around the table lamely floating compromises and the rest of us merely spectating. While it was a tough discussion (and tough to sit through), it remained "gloves-on" and civil. It was just tough, but in the long run, I think necessary. A few months later, this same board convened by phone, and with some new members on board. The topic that had caused the previously heated discussion, was now dealt with calmly and strategically. The meeting concluded with a plan of action to move us forward. A group dynamics expert would be able to pick apart what worked and why in a hot minute. Here's my non-expert take: At the first meeting, the topic hadn't been discussed previously as thoroughly by that particular group of board members. The focus of the discussion was on recapping past actions and evaluating whether the "right" decisions were made. The

What Would You Change This Year?

NOW THAT WE'RE ALL STARTING TO REFOCUS IN EARNEST after the New Year holiday, here's a question for you: If you could change one dynamic about your cultural organization’s board in 2010, what would it be? Would it be something major, like a change of board leadership? Or some small tweak to what you already do that could have a big impact over the course of the year? Whether your board elections are right around the corner or months away, it's always a good time to talk about the leadership needs of your organization. Seems to me that the first quarter of the year is as good a time as any to take stock of the coming year's challenges and determine the organization's resources to meet them, including leadership skills. It may be that certain challenges will be best handled by committee members or junior staff, rather than the board president, a committee chair or the director. What needs to happen to allow everyone to "own" a leadership role in your ins