November 19, 2016
I was recently part of a small group offering advice and counsel to a young nonprofit trying to improve its visibility and develop new sources of financial support, as a large grant that has carried them will be expiring.
Here’s a summary of my advice to them:
- Broaden the population you serve. That means more stakeholders, and more people motivated to tell your story.
- Seek media coverage.
- Create tools top tell your story — articles, white papers, audio podcasts, short videos, etc.
- Become a thought leader. Offer authoritative opinions, clear professional advice, quotable quotes that the media can use.
- Encourage other thought leaders to use and recommend your program. They will then help tell your story.
- It will be hard for your program staff to focus on such public relations work at the same time that they are passionately involved in program activity. Seek earmarked funds to hire a full time (or maybe part time) professional publicist.
When asked what should be included in an Executive Director’s report to the board, I responded with this model of “OARS” to help the board be aware of the steering environment:
- O = Opportunities . . . that the organization can (and perhaps should) pursue
- A = Accomplishments . . . both little and big successes
- R = Risk factors . . . things that look like they might go wrong, including action taken to mitigate these.
- S = Surprises . . . that the ED encountered. Yes — even in a well run organization, with very professional staff, there are surprises
This model was inspired by the “Significant events” report I had file each week when I was a mid-level manager at General Electric. Each of my staff had to write such a report to me, and I distilled and condensed these, along with my own list, in my report to senior management. Our “significant events” were named differently, but functioned in the same way to alert our managers about situations that would likely develop — either into more mature problems, or into inspiring successes.
The underlying value here is truth telling. I knew it was easy for my staff to report great successes, or opportunities that seemed to be developing. It was much harder to report those out of control situations that could get worse, those stakeholders whose dismay was escalating, those situations that seemed only to work against us. But my job was to know of such situations, and to organize appropriate responses. Were I kept in the dark, I couldn’t really do my job.
September 11, 2013
Recently I was asked to comment about how best to engage donors to a nonprofit.
My answer — Ask the right questions. Decide what conversation you’d like to have, and figure out what QUESTIONS will start that off. Donors like to be listened to, like to be heard, and like to be treated as important. Asking the right questions, and then listening carefully will make a huge difference.
April 24, 2013
I wrote this in response to a query about a board that was not fulfilling its mission — at least according to the groups Executive Director. After reading a detailed analysis of ways in which the board appeared to be failing, I added these thoughts . . .
I believe the solution must involve both left and right brain thinking — both an analysis of what’s being missed, and some candid sharing about the context of board work in support of the organization’s mission.
I can imagine leading a workshop in which board members list
- Expectations about their roles
- Personal evaluation about their performance in each role
- What energizes each board member to do this work
- What de-energizes each board member, or puts limits on the energy they can expend
- What makes board meetings fun, exciting, vital, and worth attending
- What makes board meetings dull, frustrating, obligations that one might rather skip.
Then have the Executive Director (and perhaps other members of the executive team) list his or her expectations of the board, which of these are met and to what extent, and which are left unfulfilled in a way that really hurts the organization, or at least the work of the Executive Director.
I expect that mixing structural and personal will help everybody find more trust and develop a more collaborative spirit, and that this sharing process will expose some of the real issues.
One final note — Don’t assume that the problem lies totally with the board. It may be that unclear expectations or communications, confused agenda, vague decision making processes, or other such external problems are part of what holds the board back. For this reason, it’s extremely helpful to have the session facilitated by somebody from outside — somebody who is not identifed with any part of the organization or its governance.
October 12, 2011
As I work with non-profit boards, these are some of the questions I usually raise. But you can use these on your own. I’d welcome feedback about which are most important, which need to be changed, and what should have been included but was not.
Mission / Vision: Does the organization have a clear mission statement, and a vision of what it seeks to achieve? At what point in time might the mission be accomplished? When has the board last revisited mission and vision? Are staff, board, and executive aligned on mission and vision? Are mission and vision statements referenced when program ideas, and internal policies are being considered? Does the board notice when stated mission and actual function are different, and can it take constructive action?
Stakeholders: Who are the stakeholders, or potential stakeholders? How does the board connect with or represent the stakeholders? If some stakeholders are not in some way represented on the board, how does the organization maintain ties with them? To what groups does the organization feel itself accountable?
Board membership: How are Board members chosen? Does the board include people with experience to evaluate and clarify the organization’s need for legal services, accounting, publicity, marketing, program development, fundraising human resources, etc.? Is the board primarily a policy-making body, or does it seek is it a “working board” (providing some of these services)? Are there term limits for board members? How does the board identify and cultivate new members with the right skills, experience connections, and commitment? Is there a training protocol for new board members, and a regular check in with continuing board members as they get re-appointed?
Board meetings: Are board meetings well attended lively events, that engage the board and that result in useful dialog and decisions? Do board members come away excited and involved? Is there a clear agenda, with board questions presented in enough detail and accompanied with enough background material? Are meetings run in a manner that encourage candid sharing, creative problem solving, and the generation of consensus whenever possible? Is the board able to listen carefully to minority views, to see how these might provide helpful insights and guidance? Are minutes taken carefully, and then reviewed by the board? Read the rest of this entry »