The Butterfly Effect
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:
- the hat covering their fiduciary and governing responsibilities.
- 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.
On this day of giving thanks, I’m resharing this post from 2018 about true donor gratitude, from a heart filled with love.
All my best to all of you and your loved ones for this Thanksgiving.
You might want to read about the history and myth of Thanksgiving while you are waiting for the turkey to roast.
We talk a lot in fundraising circles about gratitude. We hear over and over again how we need to honor all of our donors.
But then organizations revert to form by tiering their gratitude to the size of the gift. The biggest gifts get the most personalized thank yous. The biggest donors get priority mention in the annual report. Big givers get their names at the top of the donor wall. They are forever fixed in our minds, remembered by name and amount.
The little gift donor barely registers.
Yet that small gift may be a much bigger act of philanthropy. How often do you celebrate that small gift? Do you stop to think what kind of sacrifice might come with that gift? Someone of limited means or on a fixed income may have reached deep to send their donation.
So when I saw this message bubbling with gratitude on Facebook, I knew I had to share it with you.
With the permission of its author, Henrietta White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, I bring you a close-up, truly authentic example of loving your donor for their act of generosity:
“Lounging around and I received a notification on my phone that someone had made a donation to HGI via our website.
“I checked, and there it was – a wonderful woman had donated $10.00 (ten dollars).
“I found it very significant and heartwarming that she would think of us in such a loving and kind way to donate what she could. It is not the amount that matter[s] but the fact that she contributed in such a thoughtful way means a LOT to us.
“Now, her generous gift of $10.00 is going to help purchase ice melt to help keep the premises of the HGI’S Rukiya Center safe!
“Oh, Happy Day! ❤”
Thank you so much, Henrie, for reminding each of us that donor love starts within our own hearts.
More on donor gratitude
You may not be surprised to hear that COVID has caused a major drop in volunteer participation, according to a report from Fidelity Charitable – but fundraisers should take notice. Volunteer experiences can be an important point of entry for many donors, particularly Millenials. The study is summarized in today’s Mass Nonprofit News.
Sixty-six percent of volunteers report ending or decreasing their volunteer commitments since the crisis began. Only 11 percent have increased their volunteer hours. Of those who maintained or increased their commitments, about 80 percent participate online, compared to just 11 percent before COVID.
As with other COVID impacts, we can only speculate whether these changes in behavior will stick when we arrive at our future “normal.” In the meantime, it’s a good idea to engage with idled volunteers now to sustain these valuable relationships.
When your board or staff are evaluating how well your organization is doing, it helps to think about your mother. Because if you don’t believe that your organization is a wise investment for your mother, it really isn’t for anyone else’s mom (or dad or sister or brother) either.
While looking at all those exciting resumes, it’s easy to forget to bring the necessary rigor to your interview. Don’t get swayed by all those gobs of money allegedly raised!
As we learned from the ground breaking study UnderDeveloped, it’s really hard finding a fundraiser you can afford with the experience you need. Don’t be charmed by the individual and hire for all the wrong reasons. We share our cautions in our article: The Ten Worst Reasons For Hiring Your Development Director
To be more confident about who you hire, be meticulous about reference checking.
Another screen is to be very thoughtful about the types of questions you ask in your interviews. Here are some tips:
What kinds of questions do you want to ask in your interview?
- Because you need someone with both fundraising knowledge and the ability to execute, ask questions that probe for technical skills in action.
- Consider questions that uncover the candidate’s personal attributes, like creativity, passion for achievement or people skills.
- Be sure to ask about your candidate’s approach to work to help you understand how they might fit in your workplace.
- Because you wanted dedicated professionals, ask about professional membership, professional development and service to the profession or philanthropy.
- And of course, it’s important to know where they are heading, so ask about their future ambitions and goals.
Wondering about COVID’s impact on nonprofit boards? Then take a look at our new report, How COVID affected nonprofit board practices. It is based on a survey of 119 nonprofit board and staff leaders at dozens of organizations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
We collaborated with our colleague Mike Burns at BWB Solutions to survey each of our clients and followers on how nonprofit boards have responded to disruptions cause by COVID since the shut down in March.
Changes in meeting format
The most striking COVID impact on board practices reported was the rapid transition to online meetings. Board meetings via video conferencing were rare before COVID, but are nearly universal now. About a fifth of respondents expect to continue all virtual meetings after COVID restrictions end. Up to half expect to use some hybrid of video conferencing and in-person meetings in the future.
Changes in practice
While the majority reported little or no change in the board’s overall effectiveness, a sizeable minority said that board work had improved since the onset of the crisis. A number of respondents reported that their boards had put fundraising and planning projects on hold during the shutdown.
We thought we would see some panic about COVID’s impact on boards and the nonprofits they serve. While almost equal numbers reported the likelihood of reducing or expanding programs or operations, board members tended slightly more to reductions while CEOs leaned slightly toward expansion. Very few expected to go out of business or merge with another nonprofit.
Mike Burns of BWB Solutions co-authored the report with Gayle L. Gifford and Jon Howard of Cause & Effect, Inc. We recommend that boards and executives reflect on what they can learn and adapt from changes in board practice since COVIC. We further call on boards to challenge all core assumptions to better prepare for future disruption.
Fitness classes at Pinterest’s luxe San Francisco headquarters are among the social media company’s most popular perks for employees. Yoga, aerobics and other classes are on offer so that workers can burn calories or downward dog to their heart’s delight. When the coronavirus pandemic hit and employees went remote, Pinterest didn’t want workers to lose one of their favorite perks. “That’s one part of our benefits offering (that) employees really relied on and really enjoyed. We didn’t want to take that away because we couldn’t be in a physical office,” says Alice Vichaita, head of global benefits at Pinterest. To boost the health benefits from working out, you might want to also recommend employees to use a natural testosterone booster.
Board service is challenging in the best of times – and these are not the best of times.
Cause & Effect Inc. and BWB Solutions have partnered to survey non-profit board leaders and chief executives in New England. With your response, we can better understand and record how the pandemic has affected the process and practices of your board. By sharing your insights and experiences, we’ll all do better in the challenging times ahead.
“I couldn’t believe what i was seeing… this storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky…
“…Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands… Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising…
“And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.
“More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart…
“But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again.
“And we did.
“And we still do, all of us. You and I.”
I’ve been searching for words to share to express the outrage and anguish I’ve felt over the events of these last few weeks.
This outrage in our country has been intensifying over the last four years, though it started long before. 400 years and more ago.
A good share of my grief is watching that upward movement on the arc of justice I thought was happening take a deep downward plunge. I’ve been overcome by guilt for leaving this mess of a country to my children and family.
And then today, a beacon arrived for the darkness. In a BFR workshop called “Keys to navigating change post pandemic”, presenter Sue Harvey read the above story from the prologue of civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis’s memoir. The passage above is a shortened version of the story.
Jon reminded me that we had the Congressman autograph a copy to our sons who were just about to turn 13 at the time we saw him speak.
Congressman Lewis’s metaphor of holding down the house through many storms expressed what I was searching for. We have a lot of work to do to end racism and create an equitable society. Let’s all keep walking with the wind.
In peace and justice,
I don’t know about you, but my twitter feed has a heck of a lot of shoulds directed at nonprofits. It seems lots of folks have lots of certain advice to give nonprofits in this time of a global pandemic and economic shut down.
Me, I’ve never lived through a pandemic before. Well, not as an adult. Or at least lived through one that shut down huge portions of the US and world economies and ways of life.
I was born on the downside of the polio epidemic and remember getting both vaccines in elementary school. Read more
Since the full force of the Covid 19 shutdown took place a few weeks ago, Jon, Alex and I have had to rapidly adjust how we work. Yes, this older dog is sharing and learning new tricks in this video age just as fast as she can.
Ironically, I’ve been working from a home office for 26 years since the founding of Cause & Effect Inc. For at least the last five, I’ve been enjoying videoconferencing with colleagues across the US and Canada through the wonders of Zoom. I have been singing its praises. We even opened Christmas presents with the sons, spouse, fiance and my LA based daughter and my son-in-law over a few hours. It was a lot of fun.
I’ve been promoting videoconferencing as an essential skill of the 21st century board.
I never imagined that videoconferencing would be the only realistic way to connect with the nonprofit teams I work with.
And I’m sure that those directors, staff and volunteers never imagined it either. If you’ve already have a geographically disperse universe, you are likely an old hand. But most of our clients are within driving distance and they have had an abrupt learning curve. Read more