It’s February. Do you know where your strategic plan is?

It’s February. Do you know where your strategic plan is?

You probably spent time and money developing a strategic plan. Your board voted to approve it. Perhaps a board committee created it; maybe your executive director and senior staff.

Where is it now? That big report sitting on the shelf isn’t going to do your organization any good if it’s not a living document.

When did you last pull out the strategic plan and track your progress toward your goals?  When was the last time the board spent more than 10 minutes discussing that progress?

It’s a lovely plan, but…..

A plan without discrete steps, a timeline and accountability isn’t a plan. It’s a wish list. Here are a few tips for maintaining your progress, so that 3 years from now you can look back and say, “We did this!”

  • Make sure you have the will to accomplish the plan. This may seem obvious, but it’s often the first pitfall. “It’s a lovely plan, and really, this is what we want to accomplish. But…..we don’t have the money; the time; the people; the skills”…..whatever.  If you truly commit to the plan, then you find the money, the time, the people, the skills. It may not happen immediately, but it will never happen without making that commitment.
  • Make sure that someone is accountable for each step of the plan. They may not be the person who actually, physically does the work, but someone has to be on top of whether it happens or not. Otherwise, everyone thinks it’s someone else’s job.
  • Have those accountable people regularly report to the board. The entire board voted to move ahead with the plan; the entire board should be invested in whether the plan is being accomplished. If you have to report regularly, then you get it done. If it’s not done, then here’s your opportunity to talk about how to get back on track. 

“If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.”  Phil Crosby

  • Regularly set aside time to discuss the overall progress, not just individual steps. Is the plan still relevant? Do new circumstances warrant changes? No matter how good your plan is, you can’t foresee everything that might happen in the course of three years. The government may cut funding. You may receive a huge bequest. Some new research may come to light.
  • Celebrate the milestones. It took a lot of work to craft the plan. It takes even more work to execute it. Recognize that work and what you accomplish. Tell your stakeholders about your progress. Let these celebrations create momentum to lead you to even higher heights.

Engage your board in keeping the strategic plan a living document. It may sit on a shelf, but it won’t get dusty. You’ll regularly reference it in board meetings, and watch the progress toward your goals. Potential board members will see your commitment, and want to be a part of your growth.

Theodor Herzl wrote,

“If you will it, it is no dream. And if you do not will it, a dream it is and a dream it will stay.

The first step is commitment. If you have the will, you can accomplish the rest.

Celebrate! Celebrate! Dance to the Music!

Celebrate! Celebrate! Dance to the Music!

Wow! So much to celebrate! Look how much we accomplished!

Last night I attended the 40th anniversary of the founding of an organization and celebrated with the people who made it possible. I’m not even a member and I’m still on a high from the event.

Instead of lengthy speeches, there were interspersed 5 minute videos with clips of tributes and photos. They were filled with smiles, accomplishments and triumphs over adversity. Early in the evening, the audience began nodding and reminiscing, sharing their memories, and laughing over shared experiences. Plenty of time and space were created for mingling and sharing.

The organizers made sure that everyone could feel a part of the event and a part of the celebration.

Celebrations are powerful!

Celebrations are not just for 40-year anniversaries. Every step of the way toward our future, we have to remind ourselves of what we’ve already accomplished and celebrate the milestones.   

Board meetings are so often about challenges and change. Committee meetings are task oriented. What happens if you first celebrate triumphs and create a positive frame of mind before tackling a big job? According to Richard Boyatzis, of Case Western Reserve, a positive frame of mind can influence how receptive people are to new ideas. This is particularly important for leaders.

Working with boards and committees, I often begin by reminding them of all they’ve already accomplished before they spiral into the negative. The difference can be dramatic. Board members in one organization continually talked about problems they faced in getting new members. So I researched the history of the organization, specifically seeking out occasions in which they had triumphed over some adversity or introduced an innovation.

I opened the next meeting talking about how amazing they were, to have been able to accomplish those things. I reminded them of the legacy they had inherited of earlier boards that had the foresight to create a long running program. Body language changed. Individual board members started remembering challenges they had overcome. When it came time to address the membership question, they were much more receptive to new ideas and new ways of thinking about their community.

Celebrate! Begin board meetings with a litany of what has gone right, instead of wrong. You will still have challenges, but you’ll be in a much better frame of mind for contemplating new ways to overcome them.

Enjoy and appreciate all you’ve already done!

What do YOU have to celebrate? If you’d like to talk about how to bring a positive energy to board retreats and staff meetings, let me know.

With appreciation to Three Dog Night and their song: Celebrate!

Q & A: Raising a Fundraising Board

Q & A: Raising a Fundraising Board

Why doesn’t a nonprofit board fundraise? There are a lot of reasons. At a recent Bloomerang webinar, “Getting Your Board on Board,” I offered ways to move board members along the continuum from ‘I’ll do anything except ask for money,’ to ‘I’ll ask a major donor for a gift.

Since we couldn’t get to all the questions, I promised to answer some directly, and some of them in this post. If you want to see the first set of questions and answers, shoot me an email, and I’ll send it along.

And now, here are some of the questions that we couldn’t get to:

Board members who don’t give


What if your board recruits for new board members, but because they don’t give themselves, they don’t require new members to give? The cycle just perpetuates!


It sounds like your board members may not see themselves as responsible for the future of the organization. Once they consider that thinking about the future is part of their job, you can ask what ensuring the future looks like to them.

In this case, you may have to start by NOT talking about money. Instead, talk about the future, and the kinds of people you need on the board in order to make that future possible. Times have changed since the organization was established, and you’ve been able to change with the times. What kind of people do you need on the board in order to continue keeping up with society? Who might you need on the board in order to build the future you want? That way, board member responsibility for being donors becomes only one part of the whole package of being responsible for the future. By talking about the other board attributes first, the conversation can naturally migrate to money as a part of the whole.

Jump-starting a Development Committee


Other than sharing this webinar, what other things can be done to “jump start” a development committee?


Oh, so many things. And I wouldn’t start with this webinar. I likely wouldn’t even start with talking about money. I would start with envisioning the future.  What does your community look like if you and your organization were 100% successful with everything you decided to do? Beginning with vision is exciting.  The dollars and other resources are just a means to that end. Once you and your committee are excited, it’s so much easier to contemplate raising the dollars to make that vision possible.

Qualifications of a Board Member


Can you share a board member outline for qualifications to be used by the nominating committee?


There are many places to go for a classic grid that looks at demographics and skill sets for board members. The best advice I’ve heard, though, is to decide what you want to accomplish in the next three to five years, and figure out what skills and attributes will help you get there. Then, while seeking those skills and attributes, seek to balance the age, demographic and social circles that are represented. This post talks about Five Essential Qualities of board members, and includes links to some sample qualification outlines. This one talks about the need for people of different ages.

Thanks for asking! If you have questions about helping your board see the future, and their role in making it happen, I’m happy to talk. Just reach out and let me know.

Any other questions? Let me know and I may answer them here!


It’s April. Do you know who your new board members will be?

It’s April. Do you know who your new board members will be?

Many nonprofits end their fiscal year on June 30. And for most, that’s also when board members change over. That means it’s very likely you’re going to have a few new board members.

Do you know who you’re going to ask to join the board?

If you’re typical of many nonprofit organizations, you’ve waited until now – two months before the annual meeting – to look for new board members. Your nominating committee is tasked with rounding up likely prospects and inviting them onto the board.

For some of your prospects, it’s the first time they’ve even thought about the possibility of joining you. And they have to give your committee an answer in less than a week. For others, they’re just itching to get on the board and tell you everything you’ve been doing wrong.

Of course, it’s also possible you’ve done some homework, and know about ‘getting the right people on the bus.

But what questions do you ask to find out if they’re the right people?  Whether they have an accounting practice or a legal degree is simple to find out. But asking some key questions will let you in on their inner workings. Questions that will help you decide whether this is someone you want to work with.

“What would you like the organization to achieve while you’re on our board?”

“What will that make possible?”

 “Who will that help?”

Answers to the first question might very well be about balancing the budget or serving more clients. But the answers to the second and third questions will tell you about the candidate.

Is this someone who is thinking about your mission and why you exist? Is this someone who will partner with the rest of the board and staff in an effort to make your community better?

Consider the possibilities of having a board full of individuals who think beyond the budget. What could you achieve?

The sexy Form 990: Using your 990 to get supporters

The sexy Form 990: Using your 990 to get supporters

Consider the IRS Form 990. The executive director tears his hair out over it. The accountant prepares it. The board looks at it and nods. Let’s just get it done.

But when the Internal Revenue Service redesigned the Form 990 in 2008, it created an opportunity that too few nonprofits take advantage of.

High net-worth donors check your financials before making a major gift. The federal government requires the 990 to be available upon request. You can’t turnaround online without a governance guru writing about transparency.

So what are we waiting for? If the 990 is so important, why aren’t we figuring out ways to use it to our own advantage? Just because it’s a government form, created for the government’s purpose, doesn’t mean we can’t take it to its highest potential.

Talking to foundation executives, I heard one say that she “checks the 990 to see the ratio of board members relative to the size of the budget.” The Community Reinvestment Officer for a national bank said she checks for a “tangible lack of board involvement.”

Why not use the 990 to lay the groundwork for a more substantive conversation with donors and foundations?

Imagine the possibilities! Where the 990 asks for your purpose, make it sing! Footnote the heck out of it. You can add as many expansions as you want, so why not use it. And since you’re putting it on the website so everyone can easily find it (you are putting it on the website, aren’t you?), take a little extra space and answer funders’ questions before they ask them.

One terrific example of taking the Form 990 to new heights is at the Creating the Future website. Creating the future is a living laboratory for developing and demonstrating tools for individuals and communities, so people are living well, individually and collectively. It’s a concept that begs to be explored, but most funders won’t take the time to ask. So the organization has its Form 990 on its website, as well as an annotated Form 990, that gives detailed explanations of why they answered each part the way they did.

You can just see someone looking at their website, seeing “Form 990” and “Form 990 annotations,” and clicking the second one out of curiosity. Creating the Future has just engaged a supporter.

Imagine the possibilities. What will make supporters feel good about giving to your organization? Can the Form 990 help?

To talk more about using what you have to make a difference, governance transparency, or to see how The Detwiler Group might partner with you to plan the future, contact me at or