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Seven Principles of Authentic Communications ©

Many years ago I met Bojinka Bishop at a fabulous conference of the International Association for Public Participation. At the time, I was facilitating quite a lot of public engagement for government agencies. Most of the participants were involved in communicating and engaging constituents, where they be businesses, nonprofit organizations or government agencies.

Gayle speaking

Gayle (in her younger days)

It it critical when engaging stakeholders that they are clear on what level of influence they will have on the outcome, or you will have quite a few unhappy campers. Are you merely bringing people together to inform them? Are you consulting them, where there is some sense that what they say could influence the final outcome? Or are they actually having a major role in making the final decision?

To improve communications and build trust, participants need well-honed skills. Bojinka Bishop believes that all participants should be trained to improve their effectiveness.

Here are her seven principles of authentic communications to guide yours:

1. Communicate fundamental facts and issues, not peripheral ones.

2. Information must be relevant to the people with whom you are communicating.

3. Maintain consistency between your (or your organization’s) actions and words.

4. Be truthful and accurate in the information you provide.

5. Information and individuals should be accessible. Information should be easy to get and people easy to approach.

6. Language should be clear and understandable.

7. Be compassionate [empathetic] for other’s feelings, circumstances and needs.

You can use these seven principles as ground rules to guide your communications. I believe these are useful principles for communications within your board of directors and between board and staff’s. Good communications build trust, critical to any group and collaboration.

My primer, Meaningful Collaboration, a activist’s guide to collaborative policy making, is free to download. If you’d like copies of the booklet, please contact me at

10 Communications Tips from C Squared Strategy


Looking back and ahead

“PS. the work that you did with [us] continues  – Governance is stronger than ever and conversations around DEI have become not so frightening to many” 

As we are now two weeks into 2023, it is a good time to look back on where our work took us in 2022 and ahead to 2023.

Looking back

One of the things Jon and I are forever grateful for is the opportunity to help worthy organizations advance their missions. In doing this work, we expand our knowledge of the issues and regions on which they are working. Of course, we are forever inspired by their dedicated board members, staff and volunteers.

Look sign on pavement of parking lotWe found ourselves enmeshed in planning work on food security. From food pantries/groceries to food system change, we facilitated projects with Aquidneck Community Table, Our Neighbors’ Table, Good Neighbors and We Share Hope. We provided strategic advice and coaching to Growing Places and Amenity Aid (hygiene products).

The advocacy and conservation  of environmental organizations are essential to our future life on Earth. 2022 brought projects with MassLand, Newport Tree Conservancy, and Warren Land Conservation Trust .

Promoting a better world for children, youth and families are our clients  Rhode Island Kids Count and Children’s Friend. We welcomed new clients The Autism Project, Shine Initiative, YouthBuild Preparatory Academy and Junior Achievement RI.

Read more

Watch your board meeting seating arrangements

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.

Technology-aided board meetings: A critical skill for your nonprofit board.

“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. Jaime Campbell is a great coach who has worked with business speakers like Lars Godbersen, which has resulted in an outstanding profit for his business.

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

Asking matters – a short story

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.

Enough said.

Strategic insight of the Johari Window

I’ve been thinking about the strategic insight that can be gained through the Johari Window*file-page1

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

Stop Talking to Yourself

Nonprofit Strategic Planning: Where to involve your board

How prepared is your board chair?

For the past year, I’ve been working with a research team  of really smart colleagues (Debra Beck, Judy Freiwirth, Mike Burns and Mary Hiland)  to better understand board chairs.

Chairs were asked two sets of questions around these topics:

  1. What they did to prepare for becoming chair
  2. How they understood their role in relation to the rest of the board, to the CEO and to their community.

The Alliance For Nonprofit Management is releasing a sneak peek infographic today with a few highlights from the study. The full report is due out in January.

Here’s just a taste of what we found.

Alliance Publishes one of Largest National Studies on Board Chairs  Alliance Online - Mozilla Firefox 12212015 11552 PM


Claiming your promise with your mission statement

IMG_3038I read a lot of mission statements. Most nonprofit mission statements are focused on how the organization goes about its work.

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

Make your appeal donor-friendly – a checklist

People give to people. Use a personal voice in fund appeals.Before you sign off on that spring mail appeal to donors, take one last look. Have you really done everything you can to help friends like me respond with a donation?

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