Tag Archives: Effective Board Series

How Board Self-Assessment Strengthens a Board and the Organization it Governs

David A. Mersky imageWe have spent the past year focused on leadership development.  The last aspect of the cycle is assessment and evaluation.  The opportunity to serve on the board and the government a nonprofit organization is an opportunity to contribute skills, experience, knowledge, and wisdom to an organization caring up valuable and vital services for society. Organizations that care for the sick, enrich a community’s cultural life, or provide assistance to the poor cannot achieve their important goals unless they are governed well.

I maintain that the success of any nonprofit venture is directly correlated to the quality of the volunteer and professional leadership of the enterprise.  And, one of the most reliable ways the board of the nonprofit organization can strengthen its performance as a governing board is to assess periodically its own performance—both collectively and individually. A good board stands back from its usual preoccupations and reflects on how it is meeting its responsibilities. This process should look at how the composition, member selection process, organizational structure and overall performance can be strengthened.

A thoughtful, thorough, annual board self-assessment helps:

  • Identify important areas of board operation that need improvement;
  • Measure progress toward existing plans, goals, and objectives of the board;
  • Shape the future operations of the board;
  • Define criteria for an effective and successful Board of Directors;
  • Build trust, respect, and communication among board members; and
  • Enable individual board members to work more effectively as part of a team.

A good board assessment process analyzes areas of board responsibility from the organization’s mission, vision and values to ensuring effective fiscal and risk management, from new board member selection to consideration of the organization’s public image.

Then, each board member should ask how satisfied he or she is within the current structure.  It is important to question whether they are living up to the expectations set forth when first joining the board as well whether he or she is a strong representative of the organization.  Individuals should ask themselves questions like, “whether they are knowledgeable about the organization’s programs and services as well as the agency’s field of endeavor?”  “Do they make a significant annual gift to the organization commensurate with personal circumstances?” “And, does he or she do what she says will do in a responsible and timely manner?”

If you are interested in developing a comprehensive assessment and evaluation process for your organization, please write me at david@merskyjaffe.com.

Last month in this series:
Leadership Roles in the Development Function

Leadership Roles in the Development Function

David A. Mersky imageThe heart and soul of any nonprofit enterprise is in the development function. Through the work that volunteer leaders and staff do in development, all the relationships—each and every one—of the organization are managed. This article outlines how the roles and responsibilities of the development committee drive the process as well as the specific fundraising roles of staff and the board.

Charge to the Development Committee
The development committee is charged with planning and implementing the organization’s total development program in concert with the organization’s professional staff. The development committee is a standing committee of the board of directors and is staffed by the organization’s professional fundraising staff. The committee serves as the mechanism by which board members and other volunteers are involved in the fundraising process.

The development committee is also tasked with focusing the organization and its board of directors on essential elements in the fundraising process. This includes constant attention to the current strength of the organization’s mission and case for support, the ways in which the organizations makes itself accountable to its constituencies, the involvement of those constituencies with the institution, understanding the resources required to carry out the organization’s mission, preparing plans for soliciting the private funds needed to carry out the organization’s mission, assisting the organization in raising necessary funds, and demonstrating good stewardship of the funds received.

The development committee—ideally made up of board members as well as non-board members—leads the board’s participation in development and fundraising as well as creating and overseeing the implementation of the organization’s development plans.

Remember, the development committee should not have to do all the board’s fundraising; all board members share this crucial responsibility.

Volunteers, while extremely valuable, can only achieve their goals with support from staff. Development requires consistency, organized documentation and a central information clearinghouse to maintain the relationships required of a successful program.

Fundraising Roles for Staff include:

  1. Provides information about the organization
  2. Develops proposals and letters
  3. Provides first draft and coordinates mailing of solicitation letters
  4. Provides follow up to all solicitation calls
  5. Sends reminders and organizes report meetings
  6. Provides information about programs and tax advantages in a solicitation call
  7. Schedules solicitation rehearsals

If you view development as the keystone of the arch of your agency, focus on the right objectives, employ the right metrics, keep score and you maintain a high degree of accountability among everyone in the organization, then anything is within your reach.

NEXT MONTH: Self- Assessment for Leaders and Leadership Teams

Involving New Board Members

David A. Mersky imageImmediately after the orientation of new board members, it is important to engage them in activities that they will enjoy and succeed at, as well as to acknowledge their assistance. It is helpful to gather information on each new members interests connections and backgrounds at the start of his or her term. A Board Member Information Form—which can be downloaded at the end of the article —should be distributed prior to, at the orientation meeting or immediately thereafter. Completed copies should then be passed on quickly to the board chairperson, the chief executive, the senior development officer, and the board partner. With this information, board leaders or selected staff can ask for a new board member’s help in an area where the new board member can be most effective. It will ensure that new board members get involved in areas where they can make a difference.

After the initial orientation meeting, an individual meeting with a new board member is an effective way to focus attention, build rapport, and enlist support. With the Board Member Information Form in hand, the chairperson of the board or the chairs of the committee on governance and leadership development, development committee, or any other committee in which the new board member has expressed interest, should consider setting up a meeting. Such a meeting offers an important opportunity to discuss mutual interests, opportunities, and needs.

Working as an Individual

New board members should be invited to work in several ways for the organization between board meetings:

  • Serving on a board committee in an area of personal interest or expertise.
  • Lending advice to various staff members in the areas of their skills, background, and expertise if requested by the chief executive. For example, an attorney, fund raiser, accountant, or public relations specialist might each be invited to attend a special board committee meeting, and work with, make suggestions to, or discuss work of staff or consultants in their respective areas of knowledge. There is also, of course, value in giving new board members an opportunity to work in new areas of interest.

After a few board meetings, a new board member might also help by:

  • When requested by the chief executive or the board chairperson, contacting individuals personally known to the board member for the benefit of the organization;
  • Arranging meetings with or visiting potential major donors or board members with another experienced board member, after consulting with the development officer;
  • Writing letters to potential donors or people who might help the organization in some other way, again after consulting with the development officer; and
  • Being sensitive to other ways to use his or her influence, talents, and resources on behalf of the organization.

Keeping up to Date and Improving Board Skills

Nonprofit governance, like many things in life, is an art and not a science. Like both the art and science, however, governance is worth studying and doing well.

The board chairperson, committee on governance and leadership development, chief executive, and development staff can help new board members feel that their board work is vital and challenging. Continuing to develop Board skills, encouraging involvement at different levels and being alert to new board member participation in activities are all effective ways to promote board member growth.

Download Board Member Information Form by clicking here

NEXT MONTH IN THIS SERIES: Leadership Roles in the Development Function

Orienting New Board Members

Orienting New Board Members

Bringing a new board member on board requires more than an introduction to their new colleagues. To welcome and acculturate them to the board, take the time to plan the process. First, consider creating both individual and group orientation sessions – particularly if you establish one time of year to bring on new members you can create a single annual group orientation. At the group orientation, bring a board manual for each new board member. Such a handbook introduces them in a more formal way to the inner workings of the organization and the board. Then, individuals can ask questions at their one-on-one orientation meeting with the board chair or executive director.

All new board members should be invited to go through the orientation process, which should be made as productive, convenient, efficient, and as thoughtfully entertaining as possible. Even old board hands who have served on boards of other organizations need orientation to your organization.

The purpose of orientation is to bring new members up to speed as quickly as possible so that they can become effective board participants and working committee members. To that end, they need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your organization, how they can contribute and work effectively for its benefit, and learn what the organization expects of them.

It is desirable to have each new, first-time board member oriented before attending his or her first board meeting. Many boards that hold annual orientations also invite current members to attend, making these sessions a comprehensive review to keep everyone up-to-date. Orientation sessions can be held on-site at the nonprofit, or at a board member’s office conference room, with key people from your organization making presentations and answering questions.

The orientation meeting is a good opportunity to instruct new board members and remind returning board members about the differences between governance, which is the responsibility of the board and operational management, which is the responsibility of the chief executive and his or her staff. It may be useful to state that it is always important for board members both as individuals and as a group to be very mindful and sensitive to this distinction.

NEXT MONTH IN THIS SERIES: Involving New Board Members

Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part II

Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part II

David A. Mersky imageAs you continue the planning that is vital for the individualized cultivation process, keep the following in mind:

  • Have two representatives of the organization present so that they can take turns speaking about the organization. While one is speaking, the other can listen and observe the candidate’s reactions, fill in gaps in understanding, or change the pace or direction of the meeting for better rapport.
  • Discuss the role of the board in general and in your organization. For example, a conversation about the distinction between governance and management may be appropriate. After the candidate accepts the invitation for board membership, these issues should be discussed in detail, but for now, you should clarify any confusion about the board’s responsibilities and roles in your organization, and you should cover the points contained in the board member’s agreement.
  • Keep in mind an alternative role the prospective board member could play should it become evident that a board role is not appropriate at this time (e.g., given time requirements, contribution expectations, expertise needed, etc.). More appropriate roles might be advisory committee member, volunteer, donor, or future board member.
  • Persuasion is twice as much listening as talking. Respond when appropriate, paraphrase for clarification, and draw connections between your prospect’s interests and your nonprofit’s mission. Be responsive to the candidate’s ideas and concerns.
  • Know the reasons why board candidates want to join boards.These include, among others, that the candidate:
    • relates to the mission of the organization;
    • desires to make a contribution to the nonprofit sector and to society;
    • is inspired by a dynamic leader;
    • wants to meet and network with others involved in the organization;
    • believes serving on the board is a way to advance professionally;
    • wants to build new skills and learn about new areas;
    • finds board service more fulfilling than his/her own career.

Note: The reasons board members stay on boards may differ from the original motivation. For instance, the prestige of serving on a particular board or admiration for a chief executive may pale with increased devotion to the mission of the nonprofit.

It also results from interest in candidates from “new” categories, for example, young adults in their thirties who view board service as a way to gain career-enhancing skills.

After a series of meetings with board candidates, the committee on governance and leadership development decides

  • who will make a follow-up call to assess possible interest on the part of the candidate;
  • who will complete the Prospective Board Member Recruitment Worksheet reporting on the meetings and consequent recommendations.

After all individual cultivation meetings have taken place, the committee on governance and leadership development narrows the number of prospective board members and submits the list of names with important characteristics and resumes for each candidate to the board for consideration. This is done annually or as special need arises.

NEXT MONTH: Orienting Board Members—New and Old

LAST MONTH: Planning an Individualized “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part I (including an explanation of “foreground” vs. “background” cultivation)

Planning an Individualized “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part I

David A. Mersky imageLast month, I introduced the concept of cultivation and recruitment of prospective candidates for leadership of your agency.  The two key concepts were to plan carefully and to create a series of “background” moves to engage all prospects as a group.  This month, I will focus upon the “foreground move”—the plan for an individualized cultivation of just one prospect.

As the committee on governance and leadership development becomes better acquainted with prospective board members, it will want to do some discrete checking on their backgrounds and on the kind of a board member they might be. The committee should plan an introductory, one-on-one meeting with each candidate it would like to recruit.

The introductory meeting is the first of several that may take place between the candidate and members of the committee, other board members and the chief executive.  Both the candidate and the organization have a stake in ensuring that s/he understands key issues such as role, workload, frequency of meetings, and expected levels of financial donation. No formula exists for determining how many meetings are necessary for achieving clear understanding.

Those who contact the candidate should scrupulously avoid committing the organization ahead of time. The decision to invite a candidate to join the board is a serious one, and should be made in consultation with the committee, the board chairperson, the chief executive, and the senior development officer. Similarly, all persons who contact the candidate should go out of their way to be sensitive to the candidate’s feelings, and should understand the need for dignity and formality in such a recruitment process. After all, some candidates may not be asked to join the board, and other candidates may decline an invitation. All parties to these delicate transactions should emerge with the feeling that everyone behaved in a sensitive and businesslike manner.

Cultivation Meetings

Here are a few recommendations for these meetings:

Plan in advance for the meeting. Naturally, you want to have a relaxed and enjoyable meeting, but even so, you will find that your meeting goes more smoothly if you think about it beforehand. Get input from the chairperson of the board, chief executive, senior development officer and/or the chairperson of the committee on governance and leadership development.

  • Decide who will talk about what, and in what order. Consider role-playing the meeting with an experienced person if one of the individuals representing your organization has not participated in such a meeting before.
  • Decide what organizational material to bring (both material that has and has not been sent before). Create a checklist to help you keep track of available materials and of what has been sent to prospective board members.
  • Decide when to give the material to the prospective board member. A comprehensive calendar should include this level of detail to ensure you show your organization to be organized, consistent and attractive to a candidate.

We emphasize the importance of well-prepared cultivation meetings because you will increasingly be facing competition for good board members. Competition is the result of tremendous growth in the nonprofit sector.

NEXT MONTH: Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part II

LAST MONTH: Cultivate and Recruit New Board Members

Cultivate and Recruit New Board Members

David A. Mersky imageAs I wrote last month in Criteria for Board Member Candidate Consideration, “every board member should play an important role in introducing prospective board members to the nonprofit.”  Once a prospective leader for your nonprofit has been identified, and, if after reviewing a completed Prospective Board Member Referral Form, (Click here to download the form), you have decided that they meet the criteria for engagement, the committee on governance and leadership development should develop a plan to cultivate and interest them in serving in the volunteer leadership of the agency.

A different kind of cultivation is necessary for board prospects who have already worked with your nonprofit and those who have not.  Regardless, the key criterion that a prospective leader should meet is that you can conceive of them someday rising to serve as the chair of the board—the chief volunteer officer of your organization.

Further, there is a close relationship between the capacity and willingness of nonprofit board members to give generously as well as to help open doors for the cultivation and solicitation of other major gifts. When seeking prospective board members, you may appropriately and simultaneously be cultivating some candidates who are also prospective major donors.

The committee on governance and leadership development should consider the following approaches:

  • Draft a plan for regular and ongoing communication to help potential board members and other community leaders learn more about the organization.
  • Invite potential board candidates to events where you can get to know them better. At the same time, they can become better acquainted with the organization and decide about committing themselves to it. Annually, the committee on governance and leadership development might decide which events would serve best as “background” moves, designed for all prospective new leaders.
  • Entertaining prospective board members may be important for your organization. You might invite prospects to various activities, such as:
    • a performance, special event, benefit, open house, workshop, tour of your facility, or other event such as the grand opening of a new facility;
    • an event at a board member’s home with current or potential board members, major donors, and community leaders; or
    • part or all of a board meeting.

Remember, planning—as in all matters—is the key to the successful cultivation of prospective leaders who might become board members.

NEXT MONTH: Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part I

LAST MONTH: Criteria for Board Member Candidate Consideration

Criteria for Board Member Candidate Consideration

David A. Mersky imageEvery Board Member’s Responsibility

As I wrote last month in Identifying Potential Board Members for Your Nonprofit, every board member should play an important role in introducing prospective board members to the nonprofit and cultivating their interest in it. It may take as long as several years to cultivate certain board candidates and interest them in the organization. Each board member should cast a net far and wide to identify appropriate board candidates, not only for the sake of the nonprofit, but also to provide opportunities for leadership experience to a variety of individuals of different backgrounds, ages, and talents.

What is the criteria for board member candidate consideration to keep in mind?

    1. Suitability
      1. Will he/she fulfill an important role on the board?
      2. Does he/she possess a degree of competence and experience needed on the board?
      3. Is he/she in a position of influence with others who are important to the success of the organization?  Is he/she likely to use that influence?
    2. General Preparation
      1. Does he/she have a basic understanding of the problems, plans and potential for the organization?
      2. Is he/she well versed in the organization’s history, mission and vision and is he/she prepared to stay on top of relevant trends?
      3. Does he/she understand the roles and responsibilities of board members?
    3. Specific Preparation for Action
      1. Will he/she come fully prepared for board meetings?
      2. Will he/she completely read all relevant background materials prior to meetings?
      3. Is he/she inclined to ask probing and insightful questions at board meetings?
      4. Will he/she conduct outside research to enhance the work of the board?
    4. Ambassadorship
      1. Will he/she be able to accurately, enthusiastically and often speak on behalf of the organization?
      2. Will he/she use personal contacts on behalf of the organization?
    5. Resource Development Participation
      1. Is he/she willing to make a significant gift?
      2. Will he/she identify donor prospects?
      3. Will he/she willingly solicit gifts?
    6. Community Activity
      1. Will he/she serve actively on at least one board committee?
      2. Will he/she suggest new ways of enhancing/growing the organization?
    7. Attendance at Board and Committee Meetings
      1. Will he/she commit to attending regularly scheduled meetings?

NEXT MONTH: Cultivating and Recruiting Candidates

LAST MONTH: Identifying Potential Board Members for Your Nonprofit

Identifying Potential Board Members for Your Nonprofit

Last month, in our continuing series on strengthening your agency’s board and volunteer leadership, I detailed the basic responsibilities of a board member and outlined how to begin “Assessing the Current Makeup of Your Nonprofit Board.

This month, I will focus on the ways in which you might identify potential board members.

Expanding the List of Candidates
After analyzing your current board’s strengths, gaps, and projected needs, your committee on governance and leadership development is ready to take the next step. In consultation with the board chairperson, chief executive, and senior development officer, the committee should identify prospective board members suggested by various sources, including:

  • committee members;
  • other board members;
  • senior staff;
  • your list of current and prospective major donors;
  • people reported on in the print and electronic media; and
  • board and organizational consultants.

The committee on governance and leadership development then assembles a confidential, cumulative, ongoing list of candidates. The committee may already have assembled such a list in the past that may include, for example, some prospects who were considered for board membership but were not chosen because of the mix of board skills at that time. Or, perhaps a prospect was approached and declined, but left the way open for a later invitation because he or she did not know enough about the nonprofit or was overcommitted.

Prospective Board Member Referral Form
To capture and facilitate the use of valuable data about prospective board members, key people—staff and board members—in the organization should complete the Prospective Board Member Referral Form. (Click here to download the form) This form summarizes helpful information about board candidates, including qualifications, interests, background, and public records of giving (such as information found in annual reports, and theater, symphony, hospital, school, college, and university donor honor rolls).

The committee chairperson should also consider telephoning or meeting with key board members, staff, and others to stimulate suggestions for board member nominations. Consider this process of identifying future leadership—of replacing oneself—to be one of a board member’s ongoing responsibilities.

NEXT MONTH: Criteria for Board Member Candidate Consideration

LAST MONTH: Assessing the Current Makeup of Your Nonprofit Board

Assessing the Current Makeup of Your Nonprofit Board

David A. Mersky imageLast month, in our continuing series on strengthening your agency’s board and volunteer leadership, I outlined the specific responsibilities of the committee on governance and leadership development.  This month I will look at assessing the current makeup of your nonprofit board.

Board Member Responsibilities
One of the first tasks of this vital committee is to review the basic responsibilities of nonprofit board members. These invariably include:

  1. Determine the organization’s mission and purposes.
  2. Select the executive.
  3. Support the executive and review his or her performance.
  4. Ensure effective organizational planning.
  5. Provide that there are adequate financial resources through their own gifts and their philanthropic engagement of others.
  6. See that all resources are managed effectively.
  7. Determine and monitor the organization’s programs and services.
  8. Enhance the organization’s public image.
  9. Assess its own performance.

Changing Board Needs at Different Stages of Institutional Development
One consideration in the selection of board members involves awareness of the changing needs of the organization, which may call for different types of board members at different stages in its life. As a nonprofit evolves, the governing board will pass through various cycles and you may need to involve board members with skills, backgrounds, and contacts different from those your current board possesses.

Often a particularly critical phase in an organization’s life involves the transfer of responsibility from the original group of founders to the second generation of leaders. Another phase may be the change from a “community” or “working” board to a more high-profile “fundraising” board, which may include more visible leaders from the community and elsewhere.

Assessing Current Strengths and Gaps in the Governing Board
These factors help constitute the reasons why it is critical to develop a system of rotation for board membership and for officers, with a limit on the total number of terms each board member may serve. The committee on governance and leadership development should begin its work by developing two lists—first, a list of all the existing board members and, second, a list of potential board members—and then determining the relationship and balance between them.

The two lists are then entered into a Board Profile Matrix composed of the names of current and potential board members across the top and, down the side, the characteristics, skills, experience, and backgrounds you wish to have represented on your board, at this stage of your nonprofit’s life. This helps you identify how successfully current board members fulfill these qualities, as well as what other assets you may still need on your board now and in the next several years.

NEXT MONTH:  Identifying Potential Board Members

LAST MONTH: Assuring the Best in Nonprofit Management: The Committee on Governance and Leadership Development