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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or www.detwiler.com.
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.
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.
*Big Hairy Audacious Goal
I’m a really big advocate for starting any project with a Vision.
Where’s your horizon?
What do you need to get there?
What steps do you have to take?
Sometimes, though, even the steps to get there require a lot of little steps first. This is especially true when the people involved haven’t experienced much success.
That’s a pitfall of focusing on the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. As proposed by Jim Collins, et al, the BHAG is important for inspiring the troops. I agree, our BHAG – our Vision – is the horizon to which we are pointing all our efforts.
However, when the troops are downtrodden or haven’t worked together in the past, they may not have the self-confidence or a level of trust to focus on an audacious goal. In this case, small successes pave the way.
I watched this in action at a private school with an aging, authoritarian founder. The board of this school is hand selected by the founder and will not take a step without his approval. This founder does not let anyone but himself meet with those he considers major donors. The school is viewed as his school; a cult of personality.
The obvious question is whether the school will continue much beyond the founder’s life. Or rather, the question was obvious to everyone except, it seemed, the founder.
I met with a handful of lay leaders who knew they had to find a way to build supporters with a loyalty to the school, not just to the founder. They also knew the founder would resist every step of the way.
A Big Hairy Audacious Goal for this group would be for the school to have a true governing board, with a succession plan for the founder, deep and broad relationships with existing donors, and plans for growing the image of the school distinct from the founder.
That’s quite a BHAG. But the initial need was to inspire the confidence needed to act without the founder’s permission.
We began with just meeting to discuss the issues. It may have seemed like nothing happened, but the mere fact that the meetings were being held began the process of instilling confidence in the actors and a trust in each other. Having meetings about board and school issues without the founder was a huge step.
Discussions revolved around ways to engage prospective supporters and advocates without relying on the founder. They knew that trying to wrestle existing supporters from his stewardship would cause a head-on collision. Instead, they sought ways to expand the circle. It took six months to get to the point of reaching out to potential supporters, yet those six months of meeting for a shared purpose served to build confidence.
Although certain the new ideas were unnecessary, the founder was willing to let the lay group reach prospective supporters outside his circle. After persevering, they reached one high-profile but previously unappreciated individual who became convinced of the group’s sincerity, the value of the school, and ultimately, the value of their BHAG. Together, he and the lay leaders crafted a process that used his influence to approach the founder and reinforce the goals of the group.
As I write this, there are still many steps to take. The culture is slowly changing. The founder is still reluctant to release the reins, but he has accepted that change is needed.
I don’t know if this school will be able to make all the necessary changes. However, I do know that without first building self-confidence in the lay leaders, they would not be in a position to make any changes at all.
Have you encountered boards reluctant to take on Big Hairy Audacious Goals? Try building confidence with small successes.
And let me know if you have other examples! You can reach me at: email@example.com.