Friday, August 19, 2016

Bored [of] Trustees

      When asked about their level of satisfaction with board meetings, respondents tend to cluster at the high or low end.  'Highly satisfied' board members cite clear decisions made and measurable outcomes; 'highly dissatisfied' board members may say the same, with the caveat that these self-same clear decisions were made in advance of the board meeting by a smaller group, and that the success of the results was credited to a hero leader, the executive committee, or an ad hoc coalition of decision makers. 

      For years I have encouraged boards to modify their meeting formats, locations, orders of presentations, and seating patterns to encourage participants to look at their organization in new ways. Simply steps enable boards to look at more than one issue at the same time---breakout and report conclusions.  Contentious issues can be articulated in triads avoiding the deadly dynamic of one passionate voice being listened to by 10-50 silent/attentive or silent/slouched attendees.

                                                       Approval of Minutes
Old Business......
Report of......
Committee on.........
New Business.....

"I'm not a 'numbers person.'" Most often said, in an apologetic tone, by a woman, before during or after a presentation by the finance committee, CFO, or Excel-dominated analysis.

      Decades of research into multiple learning styles are happily overlooked by most boards. Distributing a ZIP file containing 5 reports and supporting data a week before the board meeting, while a huuuuge step for some boards, may be effective with 1/2 of the board. Reaching the other half requires techniques such as pre-sessions, questionnaires, specially prepared podcasts, and 'flipped' seminar techniques.

Implementing Change
       Board members of a certain age may resist any format changes as gimmicky or window dressing. Others may recoil due to 1960-70 era memories of T-groups/encounter groups or other experiential formats that proved inconclusive or, even, counter productive. 

      Changing the structure and modalities of the board meeting is just the beginning of the evolution of the modern board.

      A governance committee may be charged with 'fine-tuning' board meeting structure and content. 

      If the full board has the time and the inclination, a session devoted to planning, board information needs, and effective engagement will be time well spent.

Hey, what's up?

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Year of G.A.L. Chait, Ryan, Taylor Twenty Years Out


September 2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Governance As Leadership

I remember attending a conference facilitated by Barbara Taylor which she began by asking a group of CEO's/Heads of non profits, "If your board disappeared tomorrow who'd notice?  When would they notice?  What would they miss?

The responses ranged from 'our organization would be dead in the water' to 'probably not until the Annual Meeting a year from now!?'

Governance as Leadership    For those who want the tips of the waves---

The New Work of the Nonprofit Board
Barbara E. Taylor, Richard P. Chait, and Thomas P. Holland
September 1996
 Effective governance by the board of a nonprofit organization is a rare and unnatural act. Only the most uncommon of nonprofit boards functions as it should by harnessing the collective efforts of accomplished individuals to advance the institution’s mission and long-term welfare. A board’s contribution is meant to be strategic, the joint product of talented people brought together to apply their knowledge and experience to the major challenges facing the institution.

What happens instead? Nonprofit boards are often little more than a collection of high-powered people engaged in low-level activities. Why? The reasons are myriad. Sometimes board members lack sufficient understanding of the work of the institution and avoid dealing with issues requiring specialized knowledge. Individual board members may not bring themselves fully to the task of governance, because board membership generally carries little personal accountability Sometimes the board is stymied by a chief executive who fears a strong board and hoards information, seeking the board’s approval at the last moment.  And often the powerful individuals who make up the board are unpracticed in working as members of a team. 

No matter which cause predominates, nonprofit board members are often left feeling discouraged and underused, and the organization gains no benefit from their talents. The stakes remain low, the meetings process-driven, the outcomes ambiguous, and the deliberations insular. Many members doubt whether a board can have any real power or influence.

The key to improved performance is discovering and doing what we call the new work of the board. Trustees are interested in results. High-powered people lose energy when fed a steady diet of trivia. They may oblige management by discussing climate control for art exhibitions, the condition of old steam lines, or the design of a new logo, but they get charged up when searching for a new CEO, successfully completing a capital campaign, or developing and implementing a strategic plan. New work is another term for work that matters.

The new work has four basic characteristics:
  1. First, it concerns itself with crucial, do-or-die issues central to the institution’s success.
  2. Second, it is driven by results that are linked to defined timetables.
  3. Third, it has clear measures of success.
  4. Finally, it requires the engagement of the organization’s internal and external constituencies. The new work generates high levels of interest and demands broad participation and widespread support.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I need to talk about your Performance Review@?!%$#???

There are two approaches to performance review and motivation of employees.   

Though I sometimes wished I could pull off Alec Baldwin just once, the reality of the non-profit world in particular mandates a more personalized, less confrontational approach....

Few communications elicit more anxiety than a performance review are especially intense  for new employees, or, if the organization is conducting internal review for the first time.  At the heart of an effective and, relatively, low anxiety process is a 1:1 conversation.

In order to set a comfortable tone and also to take an important first measure of the staffer I am reviewing I always begin with  open-ended questions designed to elicit reflection.  'What's been the one project that has gone best this year?'  'Give me an example of your greatest strength and give me a couple of recent, real life examples of how you've leveraged that ability.' 'On balance has the past year/quarter been a good one for you?'

Often the 'active listening' approach is successful in opening up the conversation and enables the staffer to talk about strengths vs. areas needing improvement. Closure typically consists of both interviewer and staffer restating what they are taking away from the meeting: prioritizing strengths and areas needing improvement, a plan to enhance strengths and re-mediate weaker areas, and a time line for follow up. That's the theory.

However, there are many situations where the staffer either refuses to engage or presents a completely unrealistic self-description....

Sometimes when meeting with an employee who has been subject to the most withering criticism from colleagues, supervisors and or students/clients some staffers seem to have no clue about how they are perceived. 'I really love this job. Everything's great. Why, what have you heard?'  Responses like this may signal that the staffer is panicked about revealing weakness fearful that her/his job will be taken away. This fear can be reduced if there is a timing gap between performance review and re-issuance of employment contracts.

Sometimes inaccurate self image can be corrected
with questionnaire data, observation and feedback from a colleague or outside facilitator, journal-ing and reviewing with a mentor, videotaping performance, or a host of other techniques. In a few cases, no amount of facilitated self-analysis, management by objective goal setting, or intensive professional development will make one scintilla of difference.  These are the situations that require reassigning the individual to tasks which are mechanically routine or, more likely, out-placing the employee.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Double your PR budget.....



Advertising? Marketing? Outreach? Branding? Re-branding? Promotion? Co-promotion?

As a constant consumer critic of and, sometimes, consultant on 'PR', I often wonder exactly what it is that I'm supposed to be evaluating.  Today's fire hose of sensory data and the constant redefinition of 'PR' and exponential change in delivery systems makes me yearn for the good old days...

In my day [harumph] I have hired full-service national firms, sector specialist companies, and really talented individuals with a vision and a computer. I have had several outstanding successes and some notable failures-I am currently running about 85% in my estimation reflecting the benefits of experience; see my 1976 recommendation to favor Betamax over VHS! 

The most important first step for any non-profit evaluating what it will invest in PR is to conduct a searching internal audit. I'd recommend using the following steps to 'plan to plan.'

What do we mean by PR? Clarify the scope of your inquiry. Be strategic-avoid logo redesign for not less than 3-6 months!

How much are we currently investing in PR? 
    Analyze all functional areas for PR investment.  
    Define a metric for 'sweat equity'...full time equivalence paid/unpaid.

Will we reallocate existing resources or increase current investment?  Develop scenarios with projected measurable outcomes.

What if we don't have any money?? 
Doubling $0=$0?  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Can you get new donors this year?

There are a lot of reasons to not act....

  • Millennials don't give.
  • Young alums don't give.
  • Clients/patients don't give.
  • Retired people don't give.
  • Kids on scholarship don't give.
  • International students don't give.
  • Current/former members don't give.
  • Sophisticates don't give.
  • T'weens don't give.
  • Staff don't give.

Besides everybody knows...

  1. Small gifts aren't worth the effort.
  2. On line giving is a gimmick.
  3. Our clientele isn't tech savvy.
  4. Our membership base/annual fund/capital campaign will suffer.
  5. People only give to people.
  6. We'll lose ground to our competition.
  7. We don't have the staff/volunteers to pull this off.
  8. We need to hire a web designer.
  9. Our patrons only give to productions.
  10. There isn't enough time this year.


Listen to this

Read this

Just don't do this!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Questionnaires Turning down the [water] pressure.

Organizations periodically confront crises of confidence signaled by stagnant or declining admissions/audience, or falling gift revenues. Board or staff may simply feel a generalized malaise and sense of drift. Then, at the end of a meandering board meeting, a clarion call is heard.
              "Let's send out a questionnaire!!"

I have seen first hand the havoc wrought when a well-meaning volunteer or staffer with a Survey Monkey account puts together a questionnaire, formats it solo,  and hits 'send all.'  As the responses shoot back, it's apparent that dissatisfaction and internal disagreements are being surfaced in  every sector-programs are seen to fall short, clusters of staff are pilloried by name, and certain respondents demand access to the 'raw data' because they don't trust the motive's of the questionnaire's author...

The 'water pressure' from the information fire hose  increases to the point where rapid, ill thought out responses are implemented and, finally, crisis management replaces operational stability.

The missing ingredient , of course, is a thoughtful pre-planning process-

  • Why am I looking for even more information?  Do I really need this data, or, am I hoping that the questionnaire's Hawthorne effect will precipitate change?
  • How will complaints be handled?  Is the board/staff able to fulfill  'please check, if you would like to receive further contact on the matters raised in the questionnaire.'
  • How will the results be shared-with respondents? all constituents? the general public?
  • How will you balance respondent confidentiality with pressures to provide unfiltered data?
  • Does the questionnaire design reflect best practices to insure neutrality or will it be seen as a 'push poll'?

Questionnaires can provide invaluable insights into constituent satisfaction and can provide planners with data points that might otherwise be glossed over or skipped altogether. As with most things in the non-profit world, process trumps product!  There's enough water pressure as it is...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"Free" Strategic Planning? "Free" Kittens!

As a consultant, volunteer, and/or board member, I am asked with some regularity, to provide 'free' services.
When the request is made I instantly flash back to a mental image from 1973...lovely mewing kittens just pleading to be taken to their 'forever homes.'

Having decided to take the plunge,  I reached in and...
"Honey Bear"
was mine.
All mine. 
Forever mine.
Immediate -flea dip, neutering, rabies shots.
Soon tick treatment, removal of impacted tooth.  
Stool sample-collection and paying for disposal of same.... and I am sure you know the rest.

There is, of course, no such thing as a 'free' kitten.

So, too, with 'free' planning.  When an organization decides to initiate a strategic plan, board members need to pre-plan the unavoidable costs; the systematic assessment that under-girds the initial work, next, make provision for special expertise ranging from web design, marketing, promotion and other implementation costs, and, finally, increase full or part-time staff not to mention newly emergent needs for increased investment in hardware, advertising, special events etc..

Where to start?   Click here!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

'Hey, it's good enough!' 'Good isn't great!'

once an artifact fulfills its intended purpose then any more investment in it is simply busy work.
Scott Ambler

Reconciling Ambler and Collins is at the heart of the dilemma for all stressed non-profits.  On one hand the perennial financial problems necessitate compromises in every aspect of the operation. A single staffer multitasks in development, marketing, and communication.  The golf tournament that raised $150,000 in 2006, now nets $95,000-dollars that are even more crucial to the organization's continuation.

 In recent decades the Collins model seemed to dominate the advice given to NPO's by well-meaning consultants influenced by Collins powerful observations about the evolutionary struggle among corporate giants.  Six Sigma excellence was held up as the apex of institutional development.

A few months ago I heard a contrarian perspective voiced by a founder of  Go Pro who observed that their success was rooted in being first to market with a product, any product.  Subsequent iterations of their cameras improved on fuzzy images and kludgy interfaces.

Knowing when something is 'good enough' and moving onto the next task is one of the most important coping mechanisms for NPO's.  Many staffers are young people who have high personal expectations and have had the luxury of doing their very best in a mostly manageable college environment.  These staffers are often young women whose learning style was thorough and systematic. [Of course, this is a generalization and can apply to young men as well.]

While I admire and agree with much of Jim Collins work, as you plan for the next project, the next season, the new academic year, use these two models to help you to determine when good enough is better that perfect...and the difference between perfect and great.