What are your seating arrangements? Have you thought about how far apart your board members sit at a meeting?
I was interviewing a pretty amazing board chair on a project recently. She was telling me how much more engaged the current board was and how much they were feeling like a team.
Then she added this:
“I think some of that is because our board members are sitting around one relatively small table, unlike other boards where the table is in one giant U and people are far apart from one another. It’s harder to be separate from the rest of the group when you sit close together.”
Whack on the side of the head! I had to stop and write it down. Distance in the board room does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder!
Take note of how far apart your team is.
You’ve experienced this, I’m sure. Multiple tables are configured into a big U or rectangle, but there is great distance between the tables. While board members may be able to see each other, they are physically very far away from one another. It’s often easy to hide when you are far apart.
Of course, there are many considerations in table seating and you’ll find a lot of research on this subject. Here is some anecdotal information I’ve experienced over the years:
- When the meeting facilitator sits at the “head of the table,” it increases their perceived authority. So if you see yourself as a collaborative leader, take a seat in the middle.
- Folks like to sit where they sat before. So use table tents and move seating around from meeting to meeting. It encourages board members to get to know folks they don’t know as well.
- Get everyone up to the table. It’s easy to hide in the back row and it signals distance from the rest of the group. If the table isn’t big enough, find a new space to meet. (Or maybe your board has gotten way too big).
Maybe King Arthur had the solution.. a round table.
“Geography is an artificially constructed barrier” to recruiting and keeping great directors for your board. “Why would you let geography stop you from your work of changing the world?”
So says Jaime Campbell, nonprofit board member, accountant and co-owner and CFO of Tier One Services LLC.
I met Jaime when we had both responded to a Facebook discussion where some nonprofit staff were unhappy (uneasy?) about board meetings where everyone was not in the very same room at the same time. I asked Jaime if I might interview her about her own board and professional experiences across geographic boundaries. She graciously offered her time.
So we met face-to-face, though we sat over 1,400 miles from each other. We spoke using Zoom, Jaime from her South Florida office and I from my office in Rhode Island.
Today’s board members are on the move. And busy with other obligations.
You know how difficult it is to find meeting times that work for all. So why make it hard for directors to participate from a distance.
National and international nonprofits have had to adapt to board members in different locations for many years. Read more
I was working with a board this weekend, helping them start the journey for an upcoming fundraising campaign.
At dinner Friday night, one of the board members told me one of those wonderfully encouraging stories about volunteer involvement in fundraising.
The story goes like this:
My client’s dad had been a salesperson all of his life. So he was very comfortable with reaching out to people and asking them for something, even folks he didn’t know well.
The church to which his father belonged had started a major fundraising campaign. As they were reviewing their members for whom to approach, there was one person on the list that was not a large donor and also not well-known to the other congregants, but had been a long-time member of the church.
My client’s father decided that he wanted to go and meet this gentleman.
To shorten the story, when they met, this older gentleman asked “What took you so long? I’ve been waiting for years for someone to come to ask me.” Then the gentleman left the room and came back a few moments later with a check for $50,000 as a contribution to the campaign.
I’ve been thinking about the strategic insight that can be gained through the Johari Window*.
The Johari Window is used to improve interpersonal communications and team work. It was developed by and named after psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955 (Joe + Harry =Johari).
One idea behind the Johari Window is that we all have blind spots about ourselves that we want to diminish. Reducing these blind spots requires seeking out feedback from others.
We also have information about ourselves that we hold back from others or that they are not aware of just by interacting with us.
The Johari Window provides an opportunity for self-awareness and trust building by asking us to be more forthcoming and transparent as well as soliciting feedback through a process of self-discovery.
Sounds like a great organization strengthening tool, doesn’t it.
Understanding the Johari Window provides insight on how our organizations can be more strategic.
And more effective.
It strikes me that the Johari Window can be useful when applied to our own organizations.
Here at Cause & Effect we preach the importance of seeking information outside of your organization. That involves staying up-to-date on what is happening in your field, understanding societal trends, and having critical knowledge about what is happening in your community (at whatever scale you define community).
Yes, some of this can happen by being an informed consumer of the news and professional journals. Other parts of this need to come from listening to your supporters and other critical constituents.
Having these conversations is firmly embedded in our work in strategic planning and fund development. Every once in a great while we get talked into short changing this process and regret it immensely. Why?
Because not only are these conversations wonderful ways to engage your constituents, you and I actually learn stuff that matters to your organization by seeking out their experiences and wisdom.
Important stuff. Strategic stuff. The kind of stuff that is a foundation of intelligent opportunism, one of the five bedrocks of strategic thinking.
Strategic Insight of the Johari Window worth discovering
In the worst and rarest cases, you might discover truly incorrect or damaging information floating around about your organization or its people.
More likely, you’ll find that despite your ongoing communications, very little of your message is being absorbed. Knowledge about your work might be very limited.
You may discover how limited your own knowledge is of what’s happening in your field or your community.
Most importantly, you can discover what matters to other folks in their personal or organizational lives.
With this information in hand, you’ll be able to reflect on how well you are delivering value to your constituents.
And what you need to do differently to matter more.
*There is much more to learn about the Johari Window. Here’s an excellent read:
And for ideas on who to get started, see
Chairs were asked two sets of questions around these topics:
- What they did to prepare for becoming chair
- How they understood their role in relation to the rest of the board, to the CEO and to their community.
Here’s just a taste of what we found.
Too rarely does a mission statement confidently offer up its promise of betterment for its community.
Don’t get bogged down in all the stuff you do. You don’t need to throw the kitchen sink at your mission statement.
Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation threw down a mission challenge in “The Eight Word Mission Statement” in the September 18, 2012 Stanford Social Innovation Review. The eight words: “a verb, a target population, and an outcome that implies something to measure.”
I agree that “razor-sharp” clarity about where you are going enables you to be strategic, adaptable and clear on where you are heading. That’s why I’m such a stickler for developing a clear theory of change/logic model and include its development into the strategic plans I work on. Plus, I learned long ago, that having a theory of change and logic model upped Read more
Have you addressed me personally? Have you used the word “you” in nearly every paragraph? Have you thanked me? Have you shown me how important I am to your work?
Have you used a human voice? Use the singular pronoun “I,” not the snooty “We.” Speak the everyday language you would use with a neighbor or friend. Replace insider jargon with words your Mom would understand.
Have you asked me clearly for money? Don’t try to sneak up on me with your ask. Tell me up front that you’re writing for my help with an important need and what specific amount or range of contributions you’re hoping I’ll consider. Then remind me again at the end (after you’ve made me care).
Have you explained how my donation will make a difference and to whom? A story or testimonial from someone who benefited from my past donations adds credibility to this promise.
Have you created urgency? Why do you need my money right now? To earn a matching gift? To be sure you can serve every deserving student when school opens? Read more