A client sent me this video and the Association Leadership Blog post which accompanied it.
The importance of a volunteer management plan cannot be underscored enough. Equally critical is getting board leadership engaged and actively involved in learning about, improving, and executing on the much-needed infrastructure that keeps an association moving forward.
If you're at all interested in a reasonably well oiled machine with sustainable goals and relevant mission parameters, "winging it" or a constant rearranging of the deck chairs isn't the best strategy for achieving core objectives.
No matter how much you bring to the table, fellow directors or board chairs insist upon explaining every aspect of nonprofit leadership or organisational dynamics. Previous successes don’t matter, and board members are placed in the position of having to prove themselves anew or repeatedly describe their knowledge and experience. This unfortunate scenario can be due to ego or a tendency to micromanage.
Some level of orientation for board members is both necessary and important, but so is knowing your audience. Getting clear on the capabilities of your team and team members will save time and reduce dissatisfaction. Thoroughly review board member applications and resumes when undergoing the recruitment process, and allow sufficient time for an exchange of ideas during board meetings and retreats. Directors are there to help, not be treated like brain dead zombies.
--From "How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Nonprofit Hell"
Please enjoy this guest article from Sam Frank of Synthesis Partnership founding director of Nonprofit Webinars and host of IdeaEncore Network's Wednesday Webinars series.
Focus Your Nonprofit with a Strategic Plan
By Sam Frank of Synthesis Partnership
If Strategic Planning strikes you (or your board) as a tedious, formulaic waste of time, think again. Don't give up! Not only is planning essential to the health of almost any nonprofit, but it can also be invigorating, enlightening and morale-building. Engage your board and staff with your strategic plan, by improving the design and execution of the process. Even if you think that strategic planning is a thing of the past, read Stanford Social Innovation Review's article The Strategic Plan is Dead. Long Live Strategy. for discussion of how to use flexible strategies in a rapidly changing world. For the real value of strategic planning, see my article Critical Issues #1 Why Plan?
There is no "best" way to develop a strategic plan. Every organization needs to follow a process designed to reflect:
When conducted effectively a strategic planning process will:
Join Sam Frank of Synthesis Partnership on March 20th at 1:00 pm Eastern (10:00 am Pacific) for a free webinar Strategic Planning Part 1: Cultivation & Organizational Development, and on April 10th at 1:00 pm Eastern (10:00 am Pacific) for Effective Strategic Planning Part 2: Getting Results.
Though the below is about board dynamics, there are other ways in which this tactic deleteriously infiltrates a nonprofit and its leadership. This blog post is an example of the scenario on steroids.
This could be an offshoot of any one of the hell-inducing scenarios discussed in my book. Or, a member wielding significant power, influence, or money. It can be a single director or a subset of the board.
The wound is created during a specific meeting or series thereof, where a slight is perceived. It is further picked and festers in sidebar meetings where sub-teams grouse about their projected dissatisfaction. Whether the grievance is real or imagined, the board is subjected to passive-aggressive or coliseum like jousts between those angling for power.
Blood, blood everywhere, and not a mop in sight. Before anyone can inject sanity, the disgruntled members take their toys and go home. No more money or advocacy on the nonprofit’s behalf. Corporate records are returned months later out of spite. Letters to the Editor crop up to criticise or undermine the organisation or its leaders, and gossip is spread throughout the community to ensure the sandbox is no longer usable by anyone other than Baby Huey. Those who know better will choose to make informed opinions, but others will jump on the bandwagon and fan the flames of toxic public opinion.
If you’re storming off in a tantrum from the board, ask yourself if you truly want to do damage to an organisation with a worthy cause because your opinions weren’t the final decision or not enough people kissed your ring. Does disrupting business continuity benefit the community being served?
Time to take some deep breaths, look squarely in the mirror, and be a professional who provides sufficient notice along with transitional assistance to your successor.
--From "How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Nonprofit Hell"
 Baby Huey is a gigantic and naïve duckling cartoon character. He was created by Martin Taras for Paramount Pictures' Famous Studios, and became a Paramount cartoon star during the 1950s. Although created by Famous for its animated cartoons, Huey first appeared in comic-book form in an original story in Casper the Friendly Ghost #1 September 1949, as published by St. John Publications. Many animated shorts featuring Huey had recurring themes. Most common among them was him trying to be just like any other kid his age. He would see his peers playing, and would immediately get excited. Whenever he tried to involve himself in the activities of his peers (also anthropomorphic ducklings) he would often inadvertently cause more problems, and as a result they would drive him away through trickery (and into tears). (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_Huey)
I met with a colleague and good friend recently, and we discussed the frustration organisations experience when new leaders resist board orientation which could render their participation more meaningful and on point. Instead, they are eager to teach and inform, even when the guidance they provide is redundant and detrimental to the overall process of effective forward movement.
Ego is prevalent in leadership, and nonprofit boards are no exception. While some directors are more than ready to jump in and execute on historically documented vision, others believe it imperative to ‘improve’ or ‘change’ the status quo – even if it’s working – so they can go away with an imagined feather in their cap. As a result, board members are subjected to an endless stream of document review, planning sessions, and discussion surrounding the nonprofit’s infrastructure, vision, or mission – with little actually getting done. This is also a tactic used by board members who knew they signed up for a working board environment, but have decided along the way they don’t want to roll up their sleeves. Directors exhausted by this time-consuming exercise no longer have the desire to participate, and forward movement is stunted.
The next time you decide to dazzle the board by taking a page from the Arthur Andersen playbook*, think again. Does your information really deliver the substance of the lofty subject matter it portends to explore? Or, does it instead represent a comparatively minor dent in the organisation’s oeuvre?
There is no doubt new board members can be a great asset by introducing new ideas and tweaking old assumptions. However, a constantly changing landscape can be as destructive as arteriosclerotic bureaucracy, and ultimately, too much navel-gazing can lead to running in place. Balance must be struck between meaningful input and analysis paralysis, or nitpicking which merely rearranges the deck chairs without providing much that is comparatively new, inspiring, or relevant to the entity’s bottom line.
--From "How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Nonprofit Hell"
* Arthur Andersen LLP, based in Chicago, was once one of the "Big Five" accounting firms among PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG, providing auditing, tax, and consulting services to large corporations. In 2002, the firm voluntarily surrendered its licenses to practice as Certified Public Accountants in the United States after being found guilty of criminal charges relating to the firm's handling of the auditing of Enron, an energy corporation based in Texas, which had filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and later failed. The other national accounting and consulting firms bought most of the practices of Arthur Andersen. The verdict was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States. However, the damage to its reputation has prevented it from returning as a viable business, though it still nominally exists. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Andersen). A common description of its work was unnecessary wordiness, as best exemplified in an internet joke entitled “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?” (see http://askville.amazon.com/chicken-cross-road/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=807569)
In a LinkedIn BoardSource group to which I belong (you may have to join to view it), a member posed the following question: "There are many critical differences between not-for-profits and the for-profit sector. So, what does it mean when we hear the catch phrase "We need to act more like a business?"
As usual, many weighed in. The person who nailed it, however, was Dean Remoundos, a business development executive from the New York City area.
"I think that acting more like a business is not at all inconsistent with being a not for profit. The issues are similar in many ways for example:
Mission statement: is it reviewed every year to see that it is still relevant or does the organization need to change it focus or direction? Are objectives set each year for what the organization seeks to achieve?
Is the board of directors performing its function, or are they more appropriately a board of donors? Who is minding the store and the employees? Maybe they should become a board of trustees and the board of directors scaled down to an effective working group?
Are programs being evaluated in view of the mission statement? Are they consistent? Do they need to be changed or updated? Are the results what were expected?
Has the organization identified all its constituencies? These include everyone from investors/donors to directors, to staff, to program benefit recipients. Are they all getting what they want/need/expect from the organization?
Perhaps most importantly, are costs being analyzed with respect to benefits? Are there less expensive ways to deliver the same or enhanced benefits to the target recipients?
“Not for profit” is not an entitlement to be an inefficiently run or out of touch organization that perhaps needs to update or refocus its efforts. It is just a taxable status which allows an organization to spend 100% of its money in an effort to attain the goal it seeks. While there may not be a reported Return on Investment in the traditional sense, there should well be an analysis done on a periodic basis as to whether the expected “Return on Intent” or “Return on Efforts” was achieved."
Well done I'd say. Do you agree, or disagree?
I've served on numerous public, private, and nonprofit boards and committees over the years. In many cases, I held officer, chair, or vice-chair positions. Invariably, the time came when I would question when or whether it was time to move on.
A few years ago, I reached the end of my rope leading an association I helped co-found. Without going into the gory details, the bottom line is I didn’t depart – despite my exhaustion - until I knew there was a successor who understood the organisation and could reasonably lead forward. In a twist of humourous fate that person turned out to be my spouse, so in many respects the ‘baby’ remains in our lives as an adolescent who has now become an adult.
It is good practice to measure and objectively self-assess one's participation, particularly if one has served a long time. Indeed, fresh ideas on boards are a blessing and oftentimes needed, but some attempt to frame tenure as a dirty word which connotes a loss of vision or stunted performance. This is a mistake which settles for the punch line without proper identification of root causes or ‘gory details’ which can contribute to how that leadership manifests.
Should an executive director, officer, or board member choose to resign or retire, the best gift or legacy he or she can leave behind is a new leader who brings energy, vision, purpose, and high quality execution to the organisation. I consider it a fiduciary responsibility.
For the highest performing boards, departing leaders can pull individuals from the existing crop of directors. These members have already expressed an interest in the entity, its mission, and its work - and 'promoting from within' ensures a smoother transition with leaders at the helm who understand the nonprofit and retain invaluable organisational memory. On the other hand, boards which struggle with quality leadership must recruit from the stakeholder pool of the community-at-large. To do otherwise merely cements the fate of that entity.
In other parts of this blog, we've touched on Founder's Syndrome and its flip side, where Wizard of Oz superstars can burn out. Nonetheless, a leadership vacuum without contextual framework is not what you want to leave behind while escaping for greener pastures.
Sit down with board members to strategise about the traits and qualifications your new leader should possess, then engage stakeholders to identify potential candidates.
I take pride in my work and abilities, but also enjoy the opportunity to showcase another's craft. Larry Sivitz of Seattle 24x7 recently wrote a spot on review of How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Nonprofit Hell. In fact, his was better than my own. Thanks, Larry!
How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Nonprofit Hell by Doña Keating
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Too many nonprofit boards of directors are suffering from an identity crisis. The crisis is that “who they are” is very often at odds with who or what they would like to become, and the disparity is a pitfall to achieving their charter mission. These split corporate personalities make for interesting, often humorous, and always insightful reading in a new book by Doña Keating that for many nonprofit boards will be like taking a long look in the mirror. What causes board identity refractions? Nonprofit boards fail to realize their spots and stripes, the kind of coterie they have assembled to lead their organizations. Many take refuge in their common 501(c)3 status. Yet each board has a distinct fingerprint. By understanding the “personality type” of a board, the values and priorities they tend to emulate, nonprofit boards can gain a profound sense of self-awareness and avoid suffering the missteps that are attributable to the wrong kind of group dynamics.
As Doña puts it, ”Too many boards become ineffective or frustrated when directors micromanage, or get lost (perhaps even hide) in the “Process” to the degree that achieving measurable results is compromised.”
What is necessary, advises Keating, is to “Re-calibrate at the 30,000 foot level, encouraging input from advisors and other community stakeholders who can provide needed perspective.”
“Decide who you want to be,” writes Doña. “Are you an executive or governing board that wants to focus on policy and set the direction of the organization? Or, are you a working board which attends to administration and even hands on duties? While there is a school of thought that all nonprofit boards are ultimately working boards, because both versions involve, well — work…the reality is too many boards become ineffective or frustrated when directors micromanage.”
Keating’s ”Typical Hell-Inducing Scenarios” each get their own symptom diagnosis and a prescription for remedying. They range among maladies with names like “Founder’s Syndrome,” “Rambling Meetings,” “Obstructionism,” “Silos” and “All Hammers and No Saws,” to name but a few.
Doña’s book is part handbook, part workbook, part case manual and part business diary stemming from the author’s combined 50-year history of providing information technology, policy, and management consulting. I judge it a highly business savvy yet uniquely personal narrative that takes you inside the boardrooms of so many nonprofit entities, you’re bound to recognize at least few versions of your own experience between the lines. [24x7]
Readers can preview and order the book online at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1478171049
“Process over Action”
Ego is prevalent in leadership, and nonprofit boards are no exception. While some directors are more than ready to jump in and execute on historically documented vision, others believe it imperative to ‘improve’ or ‘change’ the status quo – even if it’s working – so they can go away with an imagined feather in their cap.
As a result, board members are subjected to an endless stream of document review, planning sessions, and discussion surrounding the nonprofit’s infrastructure, vision, or mission – with little actually getting done. This is also a tactic used by board members who knew they signed up for a working board environment, but have decided along the way they don’t want to do the work.
Directors exhausted by this time consuming exercise no longer have the desire to roll up their sleeves, and forward movement is stunted. The next time you decide to dazzle the board by taking a page from the Arthur Anderson playbook, think again. Does your information really deliver the substance of the lofty subject matter it portends to explore? Or, does it instead represent a comparatively minor dent in the organisation’s oeuvre.
The majority of those who make the decision to serve on nonprofit boards will have the best interests of the organisation at heart. Excitement about joining is at its highest peak, and the mind races with the possibilities of what can be achieved with the team. What usually works best is to under promise and over deliver so results are magnified and expectations, managed.
Unfortunately, too many board members sign up for a list of initiatives and actions, then fizzle out and deliver a marginal work product - or nothing at all. Not only does this frustrate board chairs and other active members, but it can set operations back weeks or months, sometimes more.
The saying ’If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it‘ is one of those truths which initially seems counterintuitive. ‘Wouldn’t you want to instead give it to the person with more time on their hands?’ you might ask. Until one realises there’s a good reason busy people are in high demand. It’s not because they’re circus freaks who enjoy performing the octopus juggle; they’re the sort willing to make sacrifices, go the extra mile, and ensure the vision is executed. Failure, for them, is simply not an option – and because they are busy, it’s likely they’ll appreciate the value of time, theirs and others, and not want to waste it.
While tempting to stack the board with those who claim they can devote time because they’re not busy, consider that once they find a new job or the going gets tough, there will suddenly be more reasons for their unavailability or failure to produce. That isn’t to say, however, many retirees or otherwise more available candidates can’t bring excellence and quality input to the board, because many do.
There is, of course, a caveat. Too much dumping on high performers becomes an ultimately destructive habit. They’ll burn out, become resentful, or the occasional thing might slip through the cracks. If this member is the organisation’s leader, this can lead to self-protective actions which result in unfair charges of Founders Syndrome, and incites a cycle of criticism from directors trying to deflect or hide their own lackluster contributions.
Delegating and involving other team members is a well-rounded approach which strengthens and empowers the board to successfully represent the entity and its community base. It also pays to calibrate or reframe so members are recruited who can successfully gauge their contributions, and use well-developed time management skills to ensure commitments translate into real and meaningful work.
--From "How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Nonprofit Hell"
Constructive criticism is healthy and a tool for ongoing improvement. Though it can be difficult to take, it’s important to actively listen to what is being said so a helpful dialogue can then ensue. What usually happens is the subject becomes offended, and the exchange becomes confrontational.
However, more important is the deleterious impact of The Critic in this setting. Why? Because more often than not, the individual in question has chosen this path over that of active doer. When work is required, they are too busy or conveniently unreachable. Once it’s completed, they are front and centre – full blown deus ex machina syndrome intact – swooping down to save the board from itself with a slew of ultimately inconsequential post-project corrections or complaints. An already overburdened board or leader will obviously resent this approach, particularly if you were the board member charged with the responsibility.
Again, there is legitimate benefit in value judgments and an honest critique towards polished results, but it is disingenuous at best to adopt this modus operandi without timely contributions before the work is completed. I’ve seen fist fights and shoving matches in board rooms because of it, and it can breed resentment or a demoralised environment.
There is a poignant saying: “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” Enough said.
-from "How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Nonprofit Hell"