Monday, November 9, 2009

Engaging and Supporting the Next Generation of Talented Nonprofit Leadership

Beyond the duties of care, loyalty, and obedience, there is, I suggest, a fourth board duty: the duty of imagination -- Alice Korngold

I love this quote, not only is it insightful but it conveys the inspirations and aspirations of people wanting to serve their communities as nonprofit Board members. They are excited and moved by the vision of what's possible.

However often when we ask people to serve on Boards, as soon as they say "yes", we tend to gloss over the "imaging what's possible" and immediately hand them a contract and set up an orientation focusing on the expected commitments; the should's: "you should fundraise","you should invite people to our annual dinner" and the musts: "you must attend at least 75% of the meetings", "you must make a personal contribution", and "you must serve on a committee." People are enthusiastic to fulfill those obligations: They want to be responsible, committed board members, they want to support the organization as advocates, ambassadors, friend/fund raisers and they are happy to attend productive meetings. Although, most importantly they want to know that they are going to engage in moving the organization's mission and vision forward and that their service is valued. They want to know that the responsibilities, contracts, fundraising, and meetings are going to support the movement of the vision the organization has for the community.

There are some questions I ask people when they are making the decision to serve on a Board: Is this an organization whose mission and vision I am passionate about? Is this an organization whose culture and values I share? And is this an organization who would benefit from the talents, skills, and leadership I would bring to the organization?

I also recommend they engage in this conversation with the organization's leadership and ask: How do you move your mission/vision forward? How do you live your values? How do you engage in strategic planning? What is your business model? How do you coach, mentor and train Board members? How do you address mission, vision and values during regular Board meetings? What is the process for dialogue? How is participation nurtured? How do you develop and support new Board members? How do you structure committees to ensure the work of the Board gets done? And, how does the organization celebrate its accomplishments?

There are so many talented, innovative, and energetic people who want to serve on Boards; however, they are looking for experiences that have meaning, build their team-building and leadership skills and enhance their sense of community. Organizations who can engage in this dialogue and support the energy and talents of prospective new Board members will go far in enhancing their mission and deepening their leadership talent-base.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Four Questions To Ask YOURSELF Before Agreeing To Serve On A Nonprofit Board of Directors

The Board of Directors is a ubiquitous topic in the nonprofit sector and there are volumes of research on 1) what it takes to be a good Board member and 2) the responsibilities of a Board member (organizational oversight, fiduciary oversight and fundraising... which would be a whole lot more fun if we called it advocacy, friend-raising, relationship building, movement building (alas, that is a convo for a different day...), although, I have not found much material on the questions to ask yourself before agreeing to serve. Most of us get a phone call, or invited to a lunch with the CEO and Board Chair or an invitation from someone we like and admire. Flattered, we say "yes" and then get home and ask our dog, "what did I get myself into?"

Being on a Board can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences; serving a Board can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences. However, I think we can enhance the "rewarding" component by asking ourselves these four questions before making the important commitment to serve on a Board.

Questions to ask yourself before agreeing to serve on a Board:

1. Is this an area where I have real passion. Do I care deeply about this cause and am I willing to commit my precious time, talents and treasures to it? Be really honest with yourself here. There isn't a right or wrong answer; there is just THE answer.

2. Of all the organizations engaged in this cause is this one whose culture resonates with me? Do I feel like it is a fit? Will I enjoy being a part of this organization's journey? Do I believe in the leadership, culture, and values of this organization? Do I feel like I can make an impact? Do I feel as if my voice will be heard, my talents put to their best use, and that this experience will provide me with an opportunity to learn and grow.

3. Do I have the time, energy and resources to give this organization my best? Again, there is no right or wrong answer to this question; sometimes "right now" is not the best for the engagement required to be an excellent Board member and there are other important ways you can serve the organization such as financial supporter, advocate, volunteer or friend.

4. Do you have an interest in governance -- wanting to support the organization in creating and moving a vision forward, thinking about "the change they want to see in the world because they exist?", "the relationships in the community that need to be developed to create this change?" and "the measurable, tangible benefit to they are providing to the community?"

If you can answer "yes" to these four questions, you are probably on your way to the beginning of a rewarding Board experience. I have served on many Boards, and these are the questions I wished someone had given me to deeply consider before I committed. The most rewarding, fun, meaningful Board experiences have unequivocally been the ones where I was able to answer YES to these four questions.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

breakthrough goals

Just finished reading Cass Wheeler's "You've Gotta Have Heart: Achieving Purpose Beyond Profit in the Social Sector" -- quick read, good concepts -- a key phrase that I loved; "You've gotta have a breakthrough goal!" "Too many nonprofits focus on process goals," (raise this much money, ensure this many are at our fundraiser, get this many media hits, downside office space -- add your own here...) "and not end results. While these are important processes we do them because we want to make an impact. We want our communities and the people in them to be stronger, better and healthier. When we are intentional about how these processes move us closed to "breakthrough" we inspire the people in our organizations. As Wheeler eloquently states, " a breakthrough goal forces you to think about the long-term impact of your good work." "It also forces you to get serious about being the best you can be." "Here is the thing about breakthrough goals: They are such an adrenaline rush, providing such excitement, passion and discipline in an organization, that it is easy to get carried away."

I am thinking, I get that, I believe it in. I love the concept of "breakthrough goals" because they make us answer big questions like "what are we doing to make our community, nation, world a better place to be?" I have begun to ask the organizations I work with to take 10-15 minutes to ask every board member at the beginning of every board meeting, "What have we done to further our mission since our last meeting?" "How have we gotten a step (or two) to meeting our vision?" This gives everyone a change to spend a few minutes focusing on the big picture and let's the meeting begin with everyone's voice being heard. What a great way to start a meeting....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009