By Gayle Gifford

Making working boards work

It takes a lot of people-power to accomplish the work of our nonprofits. Staff, volunteers, and, for the tiniest of organizations, their “working boards.”

You’ve probably heard that expression. I hear it frequently: “we’re a working board.”

Guess what? All boards have work.

In virtually all of our charitable nonprofits, our board members are likely to wear two hats:

  1. the hat covering their fiduciary and governing responsibilities.
  2. the hat covering their volunteer, or staff-like tasks.

What is the work of the board?

Governing responsibilities are about setting direction and overseeing the well-being of the organization and its mission. These can’t be delegated away.  For example,

  • approving the big vision
  • ensuring guiding strategy
  • setting and monitoring the policies that guide organizational work
  • defining the values everyone lives by
  • defining the metrics that measure success
  • asking the critical questions about impact, community changes, what’s coming down the pike
  • making tough decisions about priorities and resource allocations
  • organizing the board, from creating the standard of board excellence to determining the processes that bring people on board, train them, set meeting and decision standards and more.
  • Choosing and providing feedback to the CEO or leadership staff team, acting as their strategic partner and letting go of them when they are no longer serving the organization’s needs
  • overseeing required public reporting and accountability.

What are some staff or staff-like tasks? These are the things that if your organization had the money, you would likely pay a professional person to do. Tasks like:

  • raising revenues and caring for donors
  • running all aspects of events
  • caring for facilities
  • running programs
  • keeping the books, paying the bills
  • marketing, communications and promotion
  • media relations
  • managing the staff
  • recruiting volunteers

So what do people mean when they say they have a working board?

Organizations say they have a working board when they have no or few staff and board members are usually the folks filling most of the staff functions. Or they may have staff but the board keeps some particular function for itself.

Board meetings get all muddled up by combining the work of governing and the work of managing (or staff work).

Staff work also gets neglected or done ineptly when no one person (or team) is in charge but everyone — the board — is in charge.

Here are a few suggestions to enable better work from your working boards.

These are some suggestions to get you started.

1.Divide up your board meetings. Be clear about what items on the agenda are governing work and what items on the agenda are really a staff meeting. You might even want to set them up as two meetings. One that’s the board following all of its bylaws procedures. When that adjourns, then open the staff meeting. You might not even need all the board members present for that if there is no work that involved them.

2. Be clearer than ever as to the goals that have to be accomplished, who is responsible for accomplishing them, and what authority the board has delegated to those people. This can save countless hours  having the full board arguing over the cost of an event ticket or venue.

3. Recruit volunteers for staff work beyond the board. I say this often, most volunteers would rather not be on the board.  I happen to find the work of governing very fulfilling. But those folks who like running a community meal site, or teaching a workshop, or working with their hands don’t often want to be on the board.

4. Recruit board members as managers of critical functions in the organization. Give them something they are accountable to the board for achieving. That might be raising the budget dollars, ensuring a years worth of membership programs are carried out, or serving as stewardship manager for your properties. They don’t do this alone.. they can recruit volunteers to be on their committees. But every board member should have a job and outcome that he or she is responsible for achieving.

What else have you found to work well in your working boards? Love to hear from you.

Five elements of thinking strategically

1. Intent focused
2. A systems perspective
3. Thinking in Time
4. Intelligent Opportunism
5. Hypothesis-driven

These are the five elements that make up strategic thinking as described by Dr. Jeanne M. Liedtka, a faculty member at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business and former chief learning officer at United Technologies Corporation.

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Why consistency matters in fundraising

I wanted to share this guest post from Carol Golden, senior philanthropy advisor at the Rhode Island Foundation.  Carol joined the Rhode Island Foundation as its first development professional in 1991. Under Carol’s leadership during the past two decades, the Foundation has raised more than $425 million.

Carol GoldenThrough my work as a fundraiser and philanthropic advisor, I’ve been fascinated with the surprising amount of turnover in the development field. Have you noticed how frequently development professionals change from one organization to another? I have, and it concerns me.

The donors I’ve worked with throughout my career support a myriad of nonprofits that provide important services and resources to our communities. They are committed to helping these community organizations be successful and effective. All of these nonprofits need fuel for their work, and fundraising, along with fee for services, is an essential piece.

Individual donors, particularly at the major donor level, are one of the most important elements of a nonprofit’s success (along with effective and passionate leadership and top quality programs.) And, nothing connects an individual donor more strongly than respectful and consistent donor stewardship by key development staff. Note the word consistent. Read more

Fundraisers – 10 tips for advancing your career

I was asked to facilitate a roundtable discussion at 2014 Fundraising Day in Southern New England. Thought I’d pass along the tips I gathered and shared.

1. Know  yourself

  • What are your passions?
  • What are you really good at?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What are you fears/demons?

2. Be really good at your job

  • Embrace results
  • Embrace metrics
  • Learn about your cause
  • Engage in your whole organization

3. Learn all you can about your profession

  • Workshops, conference, webinars, college classes
  • Professional journals e.g. Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Quarterly
  • Know the research Read more

Yes, your nonprofit should care about millennials.

If we are going to be effective in this world, not just in raising money, but in serving our missions, we have to be smart, informed, adaptive, resilient and energetic about the work that we are doing. When Maggie Kuhn found herself living alone in her big house, she invited younger women to come be her roommates. We need to too.

Because our nonprofits need everyone’s energy and knowledge, young and old, shared across the generations, to make our missions happen.

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The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits

“Just because you work for a small nonprofit doesn’t mean you have to raise small dollars.” So many fundraising books focus on organizations with big budgets, leaving smaller nonprofits to figure out how to make those formulas work for them. In The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits, you’ll learn from eight skilled fundraisers who have right-sized the best of fundraising for the small shop.

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