“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
Tuesday night (this post is republished from May 2017), I started the board retreat with a reflective dialogue based on reading the children’s classic Who Took the Farmer’s Hat?
I sent the book around the room, with a different board member reading each page. The reading took about five minutes.
Then I asked this question:
Why would a board consultant ask you to read this book?
After a brief pause and a few blank looks, one board member launched in which started the conversation:
- “One theme is the need to incorporate different perspectives as different people (er, animals) see the same thing in different ways.”
- “Reacting to change you can’t control or anticipate is another theme.”
- ” ‘The farmer ran fast, but the wind went faster’ describes so many of the changes we encounter and the need to be extremely adaptive”
- “Sometimes you just have to let go of those things you’ve always done and the way you’ve done them”
And so it went. We spent about 20 minutes discussing and applying themes to the board’s role, getting deeper into the themes as we went along.
Using reflective dialogue to spark deeper thinking
As often as I can, I try to incorporate reflective dialogue into my work with organizations, especially boards or work groups.
Brain research tells us that we can’t scold, argue or out-fact our way to change in others. But we can open the door to it by helping to spark moments of insight. In my selection of materials, I’m hoping not only to spark discussion but also to open minds to new ideas, to new possibilities.
As the conversation facilitator, my role is to create a safe space for participants to share their ideas, to pursue concepts that might not be fully formed or are even a bit contrarian. I also come equipped with questions to help spark reflection and move conversation forward. A good resource for questions you can use is Making Questions Work by Dorothy Strachan.
Reflective dialogue for team building
I sometimes get push back from groups when I select adding a poem with discussion into their board meeting or retreat. Yet, those same groups are wondering how to develop stronger personal relationships among their board members.
I’m all for physical bonding exercises at the right place and time. But I have a deep love for these reflective discussions that allow board members to enter a topic through a different frame. We tend to compartmentalize our board members based on their professions, failing to create space for them to share their many gifts and knowledge from other aspects of their lives. My clients are always pleasantly surprised that their retired banker taught philosophy in his youth, or that lawyer was a race car driver.
Since a great workshop I attended given by Adam Davis, executive director of Oregon Humanities and former director of the Center For Civic Reflection, I’ve added A Bed for The Night, by Bertolt Brecht into my work with so many nonprofits. And I regularly assign Adam’s provocative essay What we don’t talk about when we don’t talk about service to my graduate students before we jump into any community projects or service learning.
Sometimes I use a poem, a video or short story like the one above. TED talks can be great reflection starters or a reading from the relevant organization development literature. Other times we might reflect on a research report. Many of my colleagues have used movie clips.
The Center for Civic Reflection has a list of resources on different topics that you might consider as well as questions for you to use. For example, you might want to read Maimonides From Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor to start your next fundraising discussion.
I’d also like to give a shout out to my colleagues at Creating the Future, who have launched a worldwide experiment “to determine how much more humane the world could be if the questions we ask in our day to day lives are bringing out the best in each other.”
What have you found helpful to get meaningful conversation flowing?
I hear from Directors of Development all the time that they are frustrated in their positions. These Directors feel that they don’t have influence as the fundraiser. They say they feel marginalized by their Executive Director, frustrated with board members, or stymied by uncooperative program staff.
Is this you? Do you lack the influence you need to be a successful fundraiser?
Here’s the bad news. You can’t really change other people. They have to change themselves. .
But you do have control over the way you behave and relate to others inside your organization. And by doing that, you can help create the insight others need for change.
As I was preparing for a workshop presentation for AFP ICON 2021, reviewed my own ability to have influence as a fundraiser. I focused on the three jobs I had as Director of Development.
For example, in my first fundraising job, I started as a sponsorship relations coordinator creating the newsletter and fund appeals on a budget of $75,000. Seven years later, I was part of the five person senior management team at this national nonprofit. When I chronicled the changes, my department grew from just me to a six person department with a budget of $750,000. I oversaw house fundraising, grants, donor education, cross-cultural communications, volunteers, a resource library, and a startup bequest society. I also participated on teams within the organization and with our international colleagues.
Here are 7 factors I found to be essential to have influence as a fundraiser:
Demonstrate that you know what you are doing, as both a fundraiser and as a manager. That means learning what really works and doesn’t work in fund development and how to put that into action. This requires you to read the research, participate in the professional organizations that value research, hang out with colleagues who have proven they can raise money. You need to take charge of your professional development. Read more
Want to lead? Run a good meeting.
That’s advice from Ken Phillips, my former boss at Plan USA (when it was Foster Parents Plan). Ken invited me to co-present a workshop with him as part of the AFP ICON 2021. The workshop runs on June 29th from 3:50–5:05 EDT . Unfortunately, all the workshops are prerecorded. But you can ask questions in the chat and we’ll be live to answer them.
Our workshop is called: How to lead your organization to get the internal support you need for fundraising success.
Ken speaks about leadership. I speak directly to how to get what you need and have influence when you aren’t the one at the top, a skill fundraisers desperately need. We both offer cases in which we were able to gain the influence we needed.
But this surprising advice in one of Ken’s lists, “run a good meeting,” jumped out at me.
Have an agenda, Ken said. Start and end on time. Ensure everyone has a chance to participate. Be a good facilitator.
Simple concepts. But powerful.
I’m thinking back to the times I’ve been on boards where my only real interaction with the board chair has been at a meeting. And when that meeting is poorly run, it casts doubt for me on the quality of the board leadership.
Thankfully, I started my nonprofit journey in earnest as a young member of the Area Committee (aka board) of the Rhode Island program of the American Friends Service Committee. I had great role models in the Clerk of the meeting– Quakers have clerks, not chairs or presidents. The Clerk’s job, as a facilitator, is to guide the process toward consensus – consensus of heart and mind.
You can’t ensure that all meetings topics can be covered in the time allotted. But you can be thoughtful about planning the time in advance and sharing that with your team. And, as facilitator, you can always consult meeting participants to make the choice of what they would like to do… keep going on the important discussion, understanding the consequences (postponing another agenda item or staying beyond the allotted time).
So, in addition to the big five leadership practices (thanks to Kouzes and Posner),
- model the way
- inspire a shared vision
- challenge the process
- enable others to act
- encourage the heart
Attend to the small stuff.
Run a good meeting.
Here are a few more tips on meetings:
It seems to be all the rage in nonprofit circles to say that strategic planning is dead. Outdated. Worthless.
This sentiment was growing long before COVID rocked our world. While some aren’t willing to claim strategic planning is dead, we’ve been hearing that strategic planning isn’t right in these uncertain times.
To that I say: Balderdash!
Since when has the world been predictable!
Yes, COVID shook the foundation of most nonprofit organizations. It disrupted all in person operations and just about killed (and did kill some) organizations whose business models depended on earned revenues or contributed income from in person events.
But our sector has been living under the shadow of cataclysmic events for some time. That might be the death of the biggest funder, the fickle winds of government policy and foundation giving, a public relations scandal that decimates donor support, a great economic recession or missions no longer relevant.
Yes, COVID was a sucker-punch like none other most of us have experienced. Many of our clients had to pause as they confronted and invented their way through the immediate reality of shutdown. Meetings switched to virtual and online in a matter of just weeks.
But our huge societal problems didn’t evaporate because of COVID.
- Climate catastrophe isn’t waiting.
- Wars and societal disruption haven’t ceased.
- Racism, all the other isms and social injustice didn’t evaporate.
- The desire for connection, kindness, beauty, love, healing are longed for more than ever.
I think about the need for strategic planning from different perspectives.
At the organization level, when confronted by multiple options or challenges (i.e. scenarios), how do you decide which path to take if you don’t know where you are heading and why?
On the very practical side, have you ever tried to raise significant money without a vision of community betterment, without an assessment of capacity investments, or without some sense of the resources needed to complete the work ahead?
This may sound self-serving as one of the bedrocks of Cause & Effect’s capacity building work with nonprofit organizations is strategic planning. But from where I sit, as a consultant, a volunteer, a board member and former nonprofit staffer, now is as good a time as any to be thinking and acting strategically.
That’s what strategic planning is all about, isn’t it — a pathway that brings you from strategic thinking and framing to strategic action.
What I find most of the people who are ready to seal the casket on strategic planning really mean, is that the detail scoping of tactics over multiple years seems fruitless.
To me, strategic planning has never been about nitty gritty tactics parsed over three or five years.
I find myself frequently explaining to our strategic planning clients that those Gantt chart work plans they are drooling over are the realm of business planning, planning that happens best when done annually. To me, it’s impossible to predict what you will be doing three years from now, so why bother. And if you have had that foresight, you’re just lucky.
But the framework that enables you to be strategic, in the long term and in the moment, has to be created. For many, that framework IS the strategic plan.
The bedrock of that framework is strategic thinking. And the best explanation of what strategic thinking entails are the five elements of strategic thinking identified by Jeanne Leidtke, professor of business administration at the Darden School of the University of Virginia.
Shown in the graphic at the top of this article, they are: 1) intent focus, 2) systems thinking, 3) intelligent opportunism, 4) thinking in time, 5) hypothesis driven.
You can’t act strategically if:
- you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish, for whom and at what scale (intent focused).
- you don’t understand the environments in which you operate (systems thinking). Those environments have always been complex, dynamic and influenced by micro and macro forces.
- you are paralyzed by indecision when the right opportunity arrives on its schedule, not yours. (intelligent opportunism).
- you don’t have multiple timelines in your head all at one: one year, three years, 10 years, 20 years or 50, never mind holding the knowledge of the past the acting in the present (thinking in time).
- you aren’t considering scenarios and haven’t done the “if then, then what?” thinking required.
To do the above, you need to gather data by collecting information and reach out to listen to your constituents, communities and peers. You need to make meaning from your discoveries. Then, you get to imagine the future, identify your theory of change, codify that logic model and identify the capacity and cost of what you need to get to where you are going.
Reflection and learning are part of living the plan. Planning for the unexpected. Not expecting the optimal choices to always appear in your desired timeframe. To learn how to apply this in your business, get a a consultation with Andrew Defrancesco.
To me, this is the essence of strategic planning. And if now is the time for strategic planning for you, don’t be dissuaded. Stand your ground. Do what you know is needed.
What does your board know about fundraising? I wanted to share my podcast interview on boards and fundraising with Steven Halasnik of Nonprofit MBA. https://tinyurl.com/ygmn72x6
What does your board know about fundraising? Start here:
- First and foremost, the board needs to ensure that its nonprofit is making an important difference for its community, its constituents, or the planet. That is, the Board needs to ensure that the organization is worthy of donor support.
- Next, it needs to ensure that the organization is trustworthy, that it stewards its resources well.
- Then, board members need a deep emotional connection to the mission, to be able to be ambassadors and to sincerely thank donors for their support.
- After that… it depends…
Anne Wallestad, the CEO of BoardSource, has been rocking the nonprofit universe this month with the release of The Four Principles of Purpose-Driven Boards. I encourage you to read her March 10, 2021 article in Stanford Social Innovation Review.
What makes Anne’s article so noteworthy isn’t that her sentiment is new. But when BoardSource speaks, the nonprofit community listens. And, she said it so eloquently, especially for these times.
Here are the four principles of purpose-driven boards:
- Purpose before organization. A board’s first loyalty is to realize its purpose. Achieving that purpose may demand transcending the organization to achieve it.
- Respect for ecosystem. Boards need to understand the community in which they operate, the issues they serve and respect the other players in that system.
- Equity mindset. Boards need to ask recognize disparities and inequities in society and prioritize decisions to advance equity.
- Authorized voice and power. In our system of corporate governance, boards represent the community they serve and act in its best interests. This requires both listening and embedding lived experience into the board itself, as equal partners.
The purpose-driven board has a history at least three decades long and likely more.
Once in favor in governance circles, now often dismissed, is the PolicyGovernance(R) framework of John and Miriam Carver. At the heart of this framework is a focus first and foremost on delivering the Ends, or community impact.
In his 1990 book Boards That Make A Difference, Carver says:
“The only justifiable reason for organizational existence is the production of worthwhile results.”
“The … impact on the world … should be chief interest, even obsession, of the governing board.”
Or simply stated: “What good? For whom? At what cost?”
In Carver’s world, it is board work to be the link with the “moral ownership.” To ask, for whom or what exactly are we the trustee?
Back in 1986, Kenneth Dayton, then CEO Of Dayton Hudson Corp., spoke to Independent Sector, a speech that was groundbreaking for its time. The speech was published as a monograph the next year. I would have loved to be there. I keep that monograph close and wrote about it in my article Governance is Governance.
In it, Dayton says about boards: “As representatives of the public, [board of director’s] be the primary force pressing the institution to the realization of its opportunities for service and the fulfillment of its obligations to all its constituencies.”
And in BoardSource’s own 2005 monograph, The Source, Twelve Principles of Governance that Power Exceptional Boards, Principle #2 is being Mission Driven.
So why have our boards drifted so far away from purpose?
Here’s my hypothesis.
In my own book on board governance, I write that as organizations move farther and farther away from their founding, they tend to drift away from the passion of purpose that created them.
As organizations grow, everything becomes more complicated. Finances are always pressing matters for boards, as are staff. And policy. And buildings. Before they know it, the gap between the board’s immediate focus and fulfilling the mission is a chasm.
Then, trying to improve their governance, those boards are hit with the shoulds and how-tos of being a board. Those trainings tend to be consumed with instruction about financial oversight, CEO-Board relations, term limits, or so-called fundraising obligations (you know I have a lot to say about that!).
But when was the last board training you attended all about how the board can focus on achieving its nonprofit purpose? One of the hardest exercises I undertake with board as part of strategic planning is creating a logic model. The hard part: courageously articulating what is the impact the organization is trying to achieve.
What I truly appreciate about Anne’s recent article is that it acknowledges what the governance research and a few of we practitioners have been preaching: that there is not only one way to be a board. “For all these reasons, a board can be redesigned in any number of ways, provided it has the collective will to do so. This is both the beauty and the challenge of a board structure…”
So let’s take a collective board breath. Let’s deeply inhale this the focus on purpose-driven boards. For every board member, let’s promise to put purpose above all else.
Our society depends on it.
Monday was a sad day for me. It was time to step off the board of Blackstone Academy Charter School.
Have I mentioned already how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE this school? I’d be surprised if I haven’t because I usually find a way to promote Blackstone regardless of the situation I’m in. If you asked me ten years ago if I’d ever find myself singing the praises of a public charter school, I’d likely say no. But after I worked with this school on a fundraising consulting project, I offered my volunteer services. That turned out to be board service, because that’s what I’m good at.
That was nine years ago. For the last three years (with a little extra due to COVID), I’ve also served as board chair.
The mission of Blackstone is “to build a strong community of learners and leaders.” Blackstone wants students to emerge from school with a strong sense of themselves as lifelong learners and a responsibility and investment in the wider world. Read more
Is your fundraising stuck in a rut? Have you lost the ability to see new fundraising opportunities in your current work?
Have you ever played with a kaleidoscope? Those are those tubes that you look through and as you twist them colors and images shift.
I hadn’t played with one in years until I received one as a gift for presenting a workshop at a fundraising conference. Instead of creating designs from shapes embedded in the kaleidoscope itself, this one made fascinating patterns out of whatever you were looking at.
Successful fundraisers are a lot like kaleidoscopes.
How? Excellent fundraisers have the ability to look at people and their own organizations and see limitless opportunities for making interesting designs together.
As fundraisers, we are always on the lookout for donors whose dreams and desires are a perfect match with our organization. Sometimes that match is pretty straightforward, as when a loved one is stricken by a disease and family members give to the organization that is working to find a cure. Or the guidelines of a foundation are a perfect fit with our programs. Read more
In the P.C. (pre-Covid) year of 2018, a team* of consultants, members of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management Governance Community of Practice set out to learn more about the formal leaders of nonprofit boards. We assigned the phrase board leaders to refer to officers and committee chairs.
Through the magic of survey monkey and a process called snowball sampling, we heard from 398 leaders of boards of local, regional and national organizations. They came from 35 US states and about two dozen from across Canada.
Of these respondents:
- 216 chairs were board chairs, 36 of whom were co-chairs.
- 78 were vice chairs and 31 described themselves as chair-elects.
- 69 were board secretaries (also known as a clerk in some states)
- 35 were treasurers.
- 51% indicated they held positions as committee chairs, some of which overlapped with their officer positions.
How hard is it to recruit board leaders?
While we asked many questions, I wanted to zero in on what we heard about job size.
This might sound very familiar: 75% of the leaders answering the survey said that it was at least somewhat challenging to recruit the formal leaders of their boards with 28% Read more