Why It’s Important: The Fear of Ceding Control

Why It’s Important: The Fear of Ceding Control

Strengthening boards is an ongoing task. Acknowledging what needs to be done is only the first step.

As Martin Levine asks in NP Quarterly, Diversifying Boards Means Ceding Control – Are White Nonprofit Leaders Ready? It’s an important question, because all the best intentions can be stymied by unconscious fear and discomfort.

Boards react to the realization — or accusations — of a lack of diversity by adding new and ‘different’ board members. Then they wonder why these individuals leave.

Creating a board that reflects the community can’t be the first step. Planning is crucial.

Anticipate that board dynamics may need to change. If you generally govern by consensus, how will you foster the diversity of opinions and ideas that a more diverse board will bring? How will you give the new voices as much weight as the voices of returning board members? How will you include the newer board members in substantive committees, and educate the chairs on dealing with those they might perceive as ‘disrupters’?

Create the conditions for success.

Acknowledge that board dynamics – and control – may need to change, and consider these questions before bringing on new and ‘different’ board members.

Want to talk about having these conversations? Get in touch and we can see what it means for YOUR organization.

And if you see an article that you think it’s important, send it on so we can all benefit from your thoughts. More eyes, more sharing, more knowledge all around!

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: The Funding Gap

Why It’s Important: The Funding Gap

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Five CEOs of Wealthy Foundations Pledge to Do More to Help Charities Pay Overhead

This article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy is a long read, but hugely important to every nonprofit organization that relies on grant funding for at least part of its revenue.

It’s notable when five of the wealthiest foundations revisit their granting processes and decide that they’ve been underfunding the support (they call it ‘overhead’) that makes it possible for nonprofits to deliver their missions. It prompted them to examine different ways they might change their granting structures to allow more flexibility in the operations and investments in infrastructure of their grantees.

No Reserves!

The foundations are: Open Society Foundations, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,  Ford Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and David & Lucile Packard Foundation. After engaging Bridgespan to research the effects of their giving on a subset of their grantees, they learned that 42% of the nonprofits had less than 3-months of operating revenue on hand. While the foundations have agreed that their funding processes need to change, each will make their own adjustments based on their own priorities, and as they experiment with their own grantees.

As my colleague Justin Pollock, has pointed out, restricted funding is not inherently a problem if it actually covers the true costs of a program. But when a nonprofit ACCEPTS restricted funding that only covers PART of a program’s costs, by default they are saying ‘we will restrict our own dollars’ to go towards completing the program’s budget.

These efforts by major foundations to look at their own practices are a welcome sign that change may come.

It may mean more unrestricted funding or it may mean restricted funding that truly covers costs. But it will take time for any change to spread. Wherever you are located, don’t expect immediate change. I doubt that any local foundation landscape will change rapidly. While smaller organizations can often be more nimble than larger ones, larger foundations have the staff and funds to research new methods and their implications. On the other hand, you may find that a handful of your local foundations may read about this research and be energized to make their own changes.

Definitely something to watch.  And you may want to forward this article to your friendly funders, as well.

This series of “Why it’s Important” is meant to keep you abreast of news, research and articles that provoke thought about how we govern and manage nonprofits.

 If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about funding, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

– Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: Planning or Improv?

Why It’s Important: Planning or Improv?

The Sensemaking Mindset: Improvisation over Strategy

Why is this article important?

The title of this Nonprofit Quarterly article, The Sensemaking Mindset: Improvisation over Strategy, implies an either/or relationship between improvisation and strategy. But buried in this Nonprofit Quarterly article is the caveat that structure is necessary for improvisation to work. There needs to be a framework. Using Karl Weick’s jazz as a metaphor, you can interpret, embellish, do a variation, or improvise from a basic melody. But you still need that basic melody.

Looked at this way, you might consider crafting a strategic framework, rather than a formal, step-by-step plan. This gives your organization – and the talented people in it – the latitude to respond to opportunities that come your way.

It takes courage to give people this kind of latitude. They need to know the ultimate vision you are all working toward. They need buy-in. And they need to trust that YOU trust THEM.

Can you build flexibility into your strategic planning? Do you allow improv?

If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about planning, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

-Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: Black Women Are Coming for Equity

Why It’s Important: Black Women Are Coming for Equity

The title Black Women are Coming for Equity in Non-Profit Quarterly drew me in. As I read it, I kept hearing in my head, “This is important. This is important for traditional nonprofit boards to read.” Articulating why it’s important is a little harder than recognizing the importance.

I suspect that many older board members – like me – will have experienced in one way or another the civil rights movement, or the times when gay rights was front page fodder, or perhaps the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Are these memories of the past coloring how we understand and react to the current movements that honor the lived experience of those who differ from us?

Cyndi Suarez’ example of Senator Bernie Sanders’ speech and his interaction with the participants at the She the People presidential forum can be a learning tool. How are our experiences of the past coloring our understanding of the present? Are we leaning too heavily on our memories and assuming we know the present? Do we understand the difference between equal rights and equity?

If this article has started some conversations, or even caused some deep thinking about how we govern our nonprofits and prepare for the future, please let me know.

And watch for more curated articles. If you see an article you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation, governance or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

Susan Detwiler

Why It’s Important: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Why It’s Important: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

I’m not writing any more blog posts! At least not for a while. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hear from me.

Building and nurturing relationships is at the heart of how I work with nonprofit boards and executives. A blog post cannot recreate the one-on-one conversations that develop into trusted working relationships.

But in my work I read many great articles that convey important food for thought for nonprofit organizations. Some are written directly for board chairs. Others focus on the for-profit world and carry lessons for nonprofit executives.

So instead of writing my own posts, I will curate the articles I read and give you my take on why they are intriguing, or important, or how to use them.

I hope you enjoy this new format. Here’s the first one.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Rick Moyers recently stepped down as chair of the board of BoardSource, As you can imagine, he had a lot riding on his time there. In this article, he offers three important lessons he learned during his time as chair. While only one explicitly talks about building one-on-one relationships, the other two have at their heart the need to recognize that you are always dealing with people. Always. And understanding that everything you do affects people is a great life lesson – whether as a formal leader or someone in the middle of the pack making routine decisions.

I hope you appreciate Moyers’ words as much as I do: Lessons Learned as Board Chair

Watch for more curated articles from me. If you find one you think everyone should read, please send it on. Or if you want to talk about facilitation or planning for your organization, I’d love to have that conversation.

More eyes – more articles – more wisdom!

Susan Detwiler

Can board training be interesting?

Can board training be interesting?

What a question! The mere fact that you’re asking says that you’ve had bad experience with consultants coming in and telling everyone what they ‘should’ be doing.

That is such a wrong approach, it’s no wonder board training has such a bad rap.  Even the word ‘training’ is demeaning. It sounds like you’re training animals in a zoo or a circus.

The secret to getting board members to know and be responsible for their duties is to

get them to figure it out for themselves.

As with anything else, start with the end in mind. Then you can reverse engineer to find the steps that will lead you there.

You say you need board education. Why? What’s the end result of board education? It’s not having board members know their roles. That’s only a stepping stone.

Board members knowing their role is a means to having a thriving organization.

If you want board members to know and be invested in their role, engage them in a robust conversation around what you need to have a THRIVING ORGANIZATION. not a thriving board.

The conversation will be generative, and include many things. But ultimately, while every organization may be unique, they each need these 3 things**:

  1. An eye on the future and a plan for embracing that future
  2. Resources to conduct business right now and resources to support that plan for embracing the future
  3. A way to ensure the resources are being used wisely

**Note: One of the first things to come up will be ‘money.’ Money is a red herring. Money, just like an effective board, is a means to an end. Counter that with ‘What does money make possible?’ or, if necessary, ‘Besides money…’

The board has a role to play in each of them.

The first is the future orientation – the long view. Board members have a responsibility to watch the world and consider how it will impact the organization.

The second is finding the resources – fundraising, relationships, hiring the executive, ensuring the talent is there. Board members have a responsibility to make sure the organization has what it needs to fulfill the mission, whether it’s treasure or talent.

The third is oversight and evaluation – are we being careful with the resources, are we following the law, are our programs the best way of fulfilling our mission. Board members have the responsibility to ensure that the organization is putting its resources where they’ll do the most good, and not jeopardizing the mission with poor or illegal practices.

Once you have these established, the next step is for the group to generate the HOW. 

How will you make sure you have a future orientation? What will it take to generate the different kinds of resources? What will make it possible to ensure that resources are wisely used, and we’re following the law? In the conversation, you may suggest some recommended practices.

It’s at this point you can tell the board members that they, themselves, have come up with what their roles and responsibilities are. You can present the usual checklist of responsibilities and show them that they’ve generated most of them themselves.

Board education doesn’t have to be deadly – or demeaning. A retreat to engage your board members in the whys and wherefores of a board makes the role of board member meaningful, and uses their passion to generate their own individual roles.

Congratulations!

An external facilitator can often make this retreat flow more easily. Let me know if you want to explore that possibility. To learn more about nonprofit boards and facilitation, you can follow me at The Detwiler Group.