A New Year’s Resolution for a Nonprofit President

A New Year’s Resolution for a Nonprofit President

This year, I resolve to stay focused on our cause and our mission.

  • In the past year, we have spent too many hours talking about finances.
  • We’ve spent too many hours focusing on what we lack.
  • And we’ve spent too few hours remembering why we care about this very worthy organization.

This year, I resolve to aspire to the greatest heights, instead of focusing on what we cannot do.

  • I will work with my peers to build a plan for achieving that aspiration.
  • I will work with my peers, staff, volunteers, clients, and community members to execute that plan.
  • And I will tell everyone about the plan, so they can join us in supporting this goal.

Because a vision without a plan is just a dream. An aspiration without the time, talent and treasure to make it a reality will never come about.

But first, I resolve to stay focused on our cause and our mission. Without that vision in front of us, we will once more spend our year focusing on what we lack, and not on what we can achieve.

Happy New Year! May this year be a year in which we all aspire to our highest heights.

Let me know what you’re planning for 2016! For help with that plan, or to find out more about our work in strategic planning, contact me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.

“I lift my lamp beside the golden shore” Emma Lazarus

“I lift my lamp beside the golden shore” Emma Lazarus

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful.

I am thankful for the United States of America that welcomed my grandparents 100 years ago. Because they were welcomed, I am here, and able to build a life that allows me, my husband, my children and grandchildren to live freely.

I am thankful for the people who fought to allow Eastern European refugees to come to our shores. Because of them, we have had the privilege of receiving the work and wisdom of Albert Einstein and Madeline Albright.

I am thankful for the country that welcomed Marco Rubio’s parents, and Donald Trump’s mother, allowing the son of Cuban immigrants and the son of an Irish immigrant, to aspire to our country’s highest office.

I am thankful for the people who allowed Armenian refugees into our country. Because of them, we have the largest company in the world, Apple, which revolutionized electronics and was founded by Steve Jobs.

I am thankful for the officials who work to ensure that each person who comes to our shores is properly vetted, and for those in our military and police who defend the United States against those who seek to harm us.

I am thankful for a country that protects its citizens – and protects the values that have made our country the reason so many want to come here. 

And I am thankful for you, whether you work for, volunteer for, or sit on the board of a nonprofit. You deliver your mission by looking beyond the risks of today so you can create the future in which we all want to live.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

I give. Please join me! The case for nonprofit board giving.

I give. Please join me! The case for nonprofit board giving.

It’s that time of year. Nonprofit organizations are asking their board members for their annual financial commitment. Yet despite the obvious need of almost all organizations, according to one survey, an astonishing 55% of organizations reported that they did not have 100% board giving.”

But foundation executives and major donors expect 100% participation of nonprofit board members. In the words of an executive of Piper Charitable Trust,

“We wouldn’t consider a grant to an organization if the directors weren’t 100 percent in their giving. Why would we? If they don’t care enough for their organization to give to it, why should we?

There is no excuse for not making a financial contribution to any organization that you’re on the board of.

“But I give time! That counts for something!

Yes, your time counts for a lot! I am very, very grateful to all the leaders who give of their time so freely to work on the board. Our social sector absolutely could not function without the volunteers. Your labor, your thoughtful discussions, your planning are crucial to building the world we want to live in. The organizations that benefit our community rely on you. As a member of society, I am very grateful to you for standing up and being part of the fabric of our society.

Yet volunteers can give time without being on the board.  The difference is YOU are a leader. And leaders lead the way with their gifts, as well as their time. You, dear board member, lead the rest of the community by example – not just with your time, but with your treasure, as well.

“But not all our board members are financially able to give a lot of money!”

Wow. This is such a caring objection. It almost trumps the 100% giving mandate. I hear you – and I agree with you. Those unable to give a lot of money SHOULD be included on the board. A strong organization needs to have a wide variety of voices represented on the board. Those who are wealthy – and those who are not – bring unique and diverse perspectives.

But the 100% requirement doesn’t name a dollar amount. It just says that a board member should give. If board expectations are set appropriately when you first invite the new director, then the expectation is that each board member gives a personally meaningful gift. To a successful attorney, it might be personally meaningful to give a $10,000 annual gift.  To an early childhood teacher, that personally meaningful gift might be $100 per year.

A good rule of thumb is that while you are on the board of an organization, it is one of your top three or four philanthropies.

Leaders lead by example. Be able to say, “I give. Please join me.”

Would you like some help moving your board along the giving continuum? I’m happy to have a no obligation conversation! Reach me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com


 Susan Detwiler

Listen To Your Father

Listen To Your Father

My dad didn’t fish or play golf. The standard Father’s Day card was not really meant for him. Instead, he played a mean game of bridge and did the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in ink. He learned Spanish, so he could relate to the people he worked with in the NYC garment district. And his views on justice made me consider my own obligation to make the world better.

This Father’s Day, I want to honor the lessons we learned from our fathers. Every day, my nonprofit colleagues work to make the world a better place, so I asked them: What did you learn from your father, that you apply today in your work?

Fear of change is often a fear that we will fail at whatever it is that is new. That’s a lesson that Dennis Fischman learned from his father, that he now applies as he teaches his clients new concepts in social media.

From Lynn Calder, “My dad was a master at reading people and assessing work situations. He would determine the best approach to working with each individual.”

Loretta Donovan’s Dad taught her to appreciate loyal, hardworking volunteers. “He painted my elementary school; he fundraised for his high school into his 80s. His time and talents were contributed with enthusiasm.

Rebecca Henderson shared, Most people do the best they can with what they have, and when someone does a good job, tell them.”

Annette Sandberg had a wealth of stories about learning to appreciate yourself, imperfections and all; and at the same time, to listen to those around you, because “you can’t harmonize if you listen only to yourself.”

Notice a theme? Reading each response, I was struck by how my colleagues and I, each with very different backgrounds, have each been taught by our fathers to value the individual. To see each person for who they are. It is a trait that I see throughout the nonprofit sector.

As Lynn said about her own father, “Dad was kind to everyone and treated them with respect–from the lowest paid position to the CEO…everyone, whatever their title or position, has something of value to contribute in the workplace.”

Our fathers taught us to value each individual for themselves, and to allow them to contribute their gifts as they are able. This Father’s Day is a good time to appreciate our fathers as individuals, not just as our dads, and to acknowledge their gifts to us.

Happy Father’s Day. If you can, thank your Dad for his gifts. If not, then may this Father’s Day be filled with good memories.

2015 Top Time Management Tip

Doesn’t it seem like the main reason we go to sleep is to give our email boxes time to refill? Overnight, they fill with advice and articles about time management.

Whether it’s Harvard Business Review or NonProfit Times or any of a myriad of consultants and software companies, tips and tricks show up by the bucketsful in our Outlook and LinkedIn feeds. A Google search on the term “time management tips” turns up approximately 535,000 hits! The sheer number of electrons spent on the topic tells us just how out of control we feel.   As a self-professed control freak, I empathize.

But aren’t they false promises? We can’t manage time. Time just is. We all have the same amount of time.

What we can manage is our attention.  What do we pay attention to? What do we consider important enough to do first? In strategic planning, of course, that means setting milestones and holding people accountable. It’s incredibly helpful in getting our board and staff to focus on goals.

But we still have to spend some time keeping up with new developments. Otherwise, we risk falling behind in our field.

  • How do we know the latest best practice?
  • What are thought leaders saying?
  • Which blogs are most relevant to nonprofit governance?
  • Which writers have the best insights on board <–> CEO partnership?

Sometimes it seems like just more stuff to worry about and take our attention away from our goals.

One way I gain control is to let others do it for me. I follow a few people whom I know have their fingers on the pulse of what’s important to me. I don’t have to follow all the blogs they follow, because they separate the wheat from the email dashboard choiceschaff and only repost what they think is relevant.  Colleague Beth Kanter says that

“Content curators provide a customized, vetted selection of the best and most relevant resources on a very specific topic or theme.”

By relying on others, I know I miss a few good articles. But that loss is far outweighed by the time I gain by not scanning absolutely everything – not to mention the sanity I’ve kept by not trying to.

How do you find your curators?  Ask your peers.

In fact, let’s ask each other – right now. Let’s crowdsource the best sources so we each don’t  have to wade through everything to find the gems.

If you tell me the most important resources you use for keeping up in nonprofit board and management issues, I’ll compile a list and post it so you can see what your peers are following.

Here’s two to start:

What should I add?  Tell me what you follow and why. No one person can follow it all, so let’s learn from the ‘wisdom in the room.’

To contribute to the list, for more about board governance and nonprofit management, or to sign up for updates email me at Susan Detwiler, or go to www.detwiler.com.

Presume Good Will – redux

Presume Good Will – redux

It’s hard to write a blog post in December without somehow bringing in the winter festivals.  They are hard to ignore. Whether we observe a festival or not, we get caught up in end-of-year fundraising appeals; endless staff, neighborhood, organization and family parties; last minute shopping, travel and cooking.

Yet with all this busyness, it is also a time when, regardless of your faith, it is a little easier to see the good will in others.

So today I refer to an earlier essay on Presuming Good Will. Originally written in 2010, the message still resonates.

No one is on a board of trustees because she wants to see the agency die. No one is on a board of directors because he wants to run it into the ground.
There may be strong disagreements, but it’s important to assume the disagreement is based on good intentions, and presume good will on the
part of the ‘other.’

Let’s use this time of year to really see the good will in our colleagues, friends and family. Let’s recognize that we can all agree that we want what’s best for our organization, even if we may not agree on what that best is.

Then let’s bring this perspective with us into the new year, and remember the good will we share as we build towards our respective visions for our communities.

If you are celebrating a holiday this season, I hope that it is warm and meaningful. If not, may you find the time to enjoy the lights and festivities that others provide.

Happy New Year!


Learn more on building a team out of your board members, and bringing together board and staff at www.detwiler.com or reach me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.