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 email@example.com.
Where there is no gratitude, there is no meaningful movement; human affairs become rocky, painful, coldly indifferent, unpleasant, and finally break off altogether. The social ‘machinery’ grinds along and soon seizes up.
Thanksgiving is an obvious time to write about being thankful, and it’s nice to have a time to stop and consider all that we have to be grateful for. We think about our friends, our family, our health.
It’s also not such a bad time to stop and contemplate how awesome your board is, and how much they’ve contributed to the well being of your organization.
When was the last time you thanked your board members? They’re each making your agency a priority in their lives, giving time, talent and treasure. They could be giving it somewhere else. They could also NOT be giving. But there they are, week after week, month after month, making difficult decisions, acting as cheerleaders, supporting your work, being ambassadors for your agency.
Each board member is the equivalent of a major donor. Whether or not the dollars are substantial, she has the capacity to make your life easier, introduce you to supporters, provoke new ideas, stabilize a situation. She should be told how much she means to you.
Here’s a simple exercise. If you’re the Executive Director, the next time you write a thank you note to a donor, also write one to a board member. Do that until you’ve written one to every member of your board. If you’re the board president, sit down and hand write a thank you note to each board member. If you can, name a specific action for which you are grateful.
Do you want to cultivate an attitude of gratitude within the board? At each meeting, assign one or two board members to offer a very brief statement of gratitude around the organization. It might be why they are grateful the organization exists. It might be what they appreciate about a staff member. It might be what committee they are particularly grateful to.
In many faith traditions, there is the concept “do not withhold the wages of the laborer.” It’s obvious how that applies to staff, but the wages of a volunteer are less obvious.
The wages of a volunteer – the wages of your board members – are the thanks he receives for his work.
The psychology of gratitude and its benefits are being researched throughout the fields of education, and migrating to the business world. Some readings on gratitude can be found at gratefulness.org.
Visionary strategic planning is easier when board members are comfortable with each other. Exercises in gratitude are one way to facilitate this trust. For more about strategic planning and facilitating retreats, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.detwiler.com.
Your future depends on having people around the table NOW who will be around when that future comes to pass. So the question is, have you involved any Millennials in building your strategic plan?
They’re the ones who have a vested interest in tomorrow’s community. They may not yet be able to write big checks, but as Atul Tanden said about Millennials and Nonprofits, Millennials want to have an impact. They want to know what their money is going to do, for whom. They like to dig into an organization’s mission before giving money or time.
Perhaps even more important, rookie board members bring fresh eyes to your organization. They’re free to question why and how because they’re not hampered by what’s happened before. Liz Wiseman, in her Harvard Business Review post, discovered that rookie engineers had no qualms in seeking guidance from others. In her study, the rookies were more likely to seek help beyond the usual suspects and brought new expertise to the organization that veteran engineers hadn’t considered.
Rookies forge new territory because they aren’t held back by experiences that didn’t work in the past. Because they are new, they a different perspective and high energy to projects, accelerating the pace of innovation.
A sound organization practice is to have board members from every decade of adult life. That way, you hear the voices of people who were NOT here at the beginning; people who don’t have the nostalgia factor pulling them back to the tried and true. You hear the voices of people who will be your future leaders, and you get to know the people to whom you will pass the baton.
When building your strategic plan, you have to hear the voices of the future. The women and men who have a vested interest in the community you are building WANT to be part of the nonprofit world. Invite them. Encourage them. Bring them onto your board. They’re the ones who will make sure you’re still here in 30 years.
Now’s the time to look for the fresh faces who will join your board in 2015. Let’s talk about how to build your board with Millennials, and hear their voices in the strategic plan. Contact me at email@example.com to hear more!
It’s human nature to group people and stick a label on them. We segment out individuals who are donors as being different from other people. We talk about ‘donor relations’ as if that’s distinct from building a relationship with everyone, regardless of who they are. Too often, though, we forget that this is just shorthand for real people.
Recently, Harvard Business Review blogger John Michel did an excellent job of explaining the positive impact of focusing on people and not their roles, in his post A Military Leader’s Approach to Dealing with Complexity. It made me revisit a post of my own, C’mon People It’s Not Donor Relations, and consider implications for board leaders.
Donor relations are people relations. Just like employee relations are people relations, volunteer relations are people relations, and board relations are people relations. Any time we interact with another individual we are in relationship with that person.
Michel’s post includes two gems that strongly correlate with board leadership, and the impact of the relationship between people who serve on nonprofit boards and people who are on the frontline of delivering the nonprofit’s mission.
First, if you focus on people instead of their roles, it promotes their inclusion when you craft your vision.
Or, as Michel writes:
“Making inclusivity a priority will increase ownership, enhance motivation, improve information sharing, and result in leaders making wiser, more informed choices.”
We’re all aware of trustees who operate in an ivory tower and create strategic plans without involving the people who are actually charged with executing that plan. Remembering that employees are people with their own ideas and thoughts makes it easier to bring them into the process.
Build your vision in pencil, instead of ink, so you can be flexible enough to hear and incorporate the ideas of staff and increase the buy-in of everyone involved. Increased buy-in leads to increased success.
Second, remember that every single interaction has an impact. Every spoken or written word and every non-verbal communication becomes a part of the whole image of who you are. Relationships are a result of both conscious communications AND unconscious communications. Every time a member of the board speaks to the person on the frontline, that conversation has an impact. All the more so when the communication is nonverbal. That’s when the leader is less conscious of what she is ‘saying.’
As Michel writes:
“Effective leaders understand that every interaction is a potentially powerful means of nurturing a relationship, eliminating an obstruction to progress, or reinforcing trust.”
John Michel based his observations on his experience in the military, relaying the impact of interpersonal relationships when confronting complexity. The situations and scale may differ but the principle is the same. People matter. Relationships matter.
Building relationships is a fundamental tool to make sure that when you lead, others will follow.
Have you seen the impact of leaders who build relationships? Or the impact of those who don’t build relationships? Let me know!
And I’d love to have a conversation about how your strategic planning can successfully include staff, board, volunteers and community. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ahh, the glorious feeling of looking at the month after next on your calendar and seeing whole empty days. How easy it is to be magnanimous and say “yes” when asked to take on a job that isn’t due for two m
onths. So we say “yes,” and put it on the calendar. When another someone asks us to do something in the future, we again check our calendar, see that it’s still pretty empty, and again say “yes.” This happens a few more times, and all of a sudden, the 1st week in December starts looking pretty full.
Then as December 1 approaches, all the things we want to accomplish – long term projects, researching new programs, reading for professional development – have to get squeezed into the unscheduled times, alongside putting out the inevitable fires that weren’t anticipated, calling our parents, and taking our kid to the doctor.
If we’d scheduled the projects, research and professional development, then that week wouldn’t have looked so free. We might have more carefully evaluated the request, and said ‘no’ to some of them, in order to have time to accomplish our own long term goals.
Almost everyone experiences this phenomenon. Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist who wrote Predictably Irrational, found it so common that he created the mobile app Timeful to help manage making time for the important things in life and work. In Ariely’s words,
“Because of the ways calendars are created, people actually take more meetings than they should… We have this satisfaction of having our calendar seem busy. We have the satisfaction of not saying ‘no’ to things. But at the same time, we’re chasing away things that are important to us for things that are unimportant.”
When you add together the many individuals on a board or in a department, the problem gets compounded. We all know whole departments and companies that fill their time with tasks and meetings, leaving all the workers wondering if they’ve actually accomplished anything. Similarly, nonprofit boards of directors are often left wondering why their strategic plans are never accomplished.
A strategic plan without concrete, timed, scheduled milestones is a wish list.
Several organizations I’ve worked with want to build a stronger board. The sequence goes like this:
In 2012, they stated that by the year 2015 we’ll have a stronger, more diverse board, representative of the community.
In 2014, they determine that by 2017 we’ll have a stronger board, representative of the community.
In 2016, are they going to say that by 2019 we’ll have a stronger, more diverse board, representative of the community?
Probably. Unless they schedule the time to think through what it will take to make that shift. Then schedule the time to execute each step on that newly planned path.
We all have the best intentions in the world to accomplish our strategic plans. Yet without putting them on the calendar, those planned goals are going to get squeezed out by the so-easily scheduled meetings, the inevitable fires, and the daily tasks that we take for granted and therefore forget that they take time.
Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence is famous for the dictum, “What’s measured gets done.” Back in business school, I learned this phrase as a component of Managing by Objective or MBO, which requires that these critical questions be answered:
What are you planning to do?
Who will be in charge?
By when will it be accomplished?
The problem is that MBO leaves out the step of scheduling the time to actually work on it. There is still room for procrastination. Even if the objective is accomplished, nothing keeps it from being done at the last minute or squeezed into inconvenient half-hour chunks of time around scheduled meetings. The result is frenetic or burned-out workers and volunteers.
After a recent strategic planning session, a participant approached me and said that it was one of the most intense sessions she’d ever been part of. She really felt that they had the path forward. She said the biggest difference was that they actually set completion dates for every activity, and scheduled when they would work on it.
On the two hour drive home, I remembered Ariely’s column about personal planning. In an aha moment, I realized that while setting milestones may get activities accomplished, it’s:
acknowledging that those milestones exist,
keeping them in front us, and
scheduling the time to accomplish them,
that makes the plan realistic.
Scheduling the time in which to accomplish the milestones forces you to acknowledge that accomplishing these goals will take time. It makes it a lot easier to say ‘no’ to another idea that would divert your time away from the agreed upon goal.
What gets measured gets done. True. What gets scheduled gets done more sanely.
If we don’t plan our own future with things that matter to us, then we relinquish our future to the obligations of others.
Will your plan be accomplished on time? Will your board and staff stay sane in the process? Let me know what you think! Post them here or you can reach me at email@example.com.
With the start of school, education gets a lot of attention. Keeping up with the sector means perusing the legislative, governance and financial news. It also means listening to the people on the frontlines.
While scanning an education site, I was struck by how closely classroom management lessons match the latest in governance wisdom. Those values we learned in grade school have a great impact on the way our boards work together – if we actually bring those values to our nonprofit.
On the first day of school, this grade school teacher* introduced to her class “Six things sixth graders say:”
I don’t know….YET. In the context of nonprofit board work, are we able to recognize that we don’t know everything, and there is much we can learn? How does that recognition affect our interaction with staff, clients, the community, our peers?
I’ll give it a try. Even if things are going well, perhaps doing something new will be even better. Innovation is key to avoiding stagnation. Are the members of our board open to trying something we’ve never tried before?
Oooh! A Challenge! When things are difficult, do we fall back or step forward? Do we cocoon, or is our board willing to explore the limits of our abilities? Do we reach out to others who may have the resources to help?
Let’s figure this out together. Science has shown that cooperation and trust among team members foster better results. On a board, cooperation allows each person to contribute his or her particular expertise. Do our trustees cooperate and collaborate?
Of course, I’ll help! Sometimes extraordinary times require extraordinary effort from staff, board and volunteers. Do our trustees see themselves as integral to the success of the mission, and personally take steps to ensure that success?
Thank you. Quality of life is proven to improve if we recognize that we have something to be grateful for. Of all the reasons to serve on a board, the opportunity to say thank you by helping others is one of the most powerful. Do we each come to our board work with an attitude of gratitude for the work of others and the opportunity to fulfill the mission?
These are simple statements, but science has proven each to be important components to success. I’ve seen innovation, gratitude, and cooperation create successful teams in organizations as diverse as arts, education and social sciences. I’ve also seen the price paid when trustees forgot them.
Think future! Building these attitudes into regular board meetings fuels dynamic discussions that focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t.
*Special thanks to Aliza Chanales of Yeshivat Noam, for permission to repost her “Six Things Sixth Graders Say” in the context of nonprofit governance.
What are your experiences in building the right attitudes among your board members? Pass them on! Post them here or you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.