Tag Archives: Governance

Is Executive Coaching A Good Investment?

Fundraisers talk a lot about donor retention. But, what about employee retention and how it impacts donors? Many nonprofits have a revolving door of development professionals. The average tenure of a fundraiser is less than 2 years. And the donor pays the price.

Consider a new development professional who starts a new job. Immediately, she wants to build relationships with major donors! But the donors have seen this cycle too often. They don’t want to spend the time gearing up to befriend another new development person. It shifts the work to the donor who has to meet more often so the development person feels comfortable. Which, let’s face it, is not why donors give to your nonprofit.

The new development person is set up for failure. Making it more likely they will leave sooner. Keeping the revolving door moving.

Then the question is, how do you get an employee to stay? One way is by helping them grow and feel successful with Executive Coaching.

Investing in your staff will help employee retention, which will help donor retention, which will help your bottom line.

Is Executive Coaching A Good Investment?

Executive coaching means different things to different people. 

  • A sounding board to enhance self-assurance
  • Short term strategy partner for new initiatives
  • Developing new skills like
    • Volunteer or board management
    • Governance oversight
    • Annual fund growth
    • Capital campaign planning
    • Prepping for a Strategic Plan
  • Building confidence so they are ready for the next challenge around the corner
  • Learning the skills to move up in the organization

If you, or someone you know is thinking about Executive Coaching and how it could help provide professional and personal development, send me an email. Or sign up for a free consultation on my calendar.

The Pros and Cons of an Executive Committee

Executive Commitee

When we work with nonprofits on their governance structure, we have found that the Executive Committee is often a point of contention. Term limits, board manuals, and the size of a board are the first heated discussions. But, a conversation about the pros and cons of having this committee seems to trigger the strongest opinions.

What are the Pros?

  1. The Executive Director and Staff have a strong, well-informed group of volunteers to go to for advice, help, etc.
  2. This committee can supervise and perform annual reviews for the Executive Director as well as hiring and handling transitions.
  3. A specific topic is easier to discuss in a smaller committee.
  4. Board members can look to grow into roles in this leadership group.
  5. Often there is an expectation or path within the Committee to move through one more role, leading to the Board Chair/President position.
  6. If you are having trouble with board attendance, you have a core group of people who will show up at the Committee meetings to help make decisions.
  7. They can make decisions on some smaller items that might not need the whole board’s time or consensus.
  8. It creates a group (instead of an individual) who can be responsible for problems within the board.

Seems great, doesn’t it? Let’s look at the cons to having an Executive Committee:

  1. It is a vicious circle, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you prefer. A nonprofit organization feels they need an Executive Committee to “get things done.” Executive Committees cause the board then to feel like they are only a rubber stamp. The board, then, is less invested in coming to meetings and getting involved. And that makes it impossible to get anything done with the board. Which is why you need the Executive Committee.
  2. It creates an insider vs. outsider mindset in a board that needs to work together.
  3. Executive Committee members get frustrated at board meetings if the board wants to dive into the same topics they have already discussed.
  4. It’s easy to rely on the Executive Committee for items that should be processed within the full board. Let’s face it, a smaller, more homogeneous group is easier to manage for staff– especially as the staff is more likely to know where the Executive Committee stands on certain topics.
  5. A strong Executive Committee can hide a weak board and/or weak Executive Director.
  6.  While it empowers the small group, it disempowers the full board if major decisions are made prior to their meetings.

So should you have an Executive Committee?

In general, we are not fans of this method of leadership.

But there are cases of nonprofits with which we work that have made a strong case for why they need an Executive Committee. For instance, one nonprofit found themselves in crisis –especially over the past few years – and really appreciated the nimbleness of a smaller group.  Another was working to strengthen its board and governance process. But they needed a high functioning group during the time the new governance structure was developed and implemented.. A third found they had confidential issues where – for privacy and protection – the Executive Committee was the best way to keep the circle of knowledge small.

In other words, it is up to you. There are ways to address and prevent potential complications. However, most Executive Committees are too busy doing the work of the board to focus on that.

Want a free 30-minute consultation to talk about your Executive Committee? Click here to schedule time with me.

Scrambling For Your Next Board Chair? There Is A Better Way

Next Board Chair Pipeline

For nonprofits who must beg someone to become board chair, it may feel impossible to imagine an orderly transition. But, if your organization has a leadership pipeline*, you cannot imagine how any board functions without one. If you are scrambling for your next board chair. There is a better way. But, that better way is through a self-reflective, reality check. And then, you must do the work to make change happen.

Fact 1: There are people who love your nonprofit. If there were not, you would not remain in existence.

Fact 2: Becoming your next board chair is unappealing to even your closest supporters. If it were not, they would be waving their arms above their head trying to get your attention. After all, they are your closest supporters.

Fact 3: It is unappealing to become your next board chair because it is too big a job. Or there is too much baggage. Or the incumbent has made it a full-time, day job. Or it is not respected internally. Or the role is not respected externally. Or some other reason that you could easily identify if you gave it some thought.

Fact 4: Governance matters. Having up-to-date bylaws, a defined governance structure, and having a board manual creates confidence that the next board chair’s job (or any board position) has defined parameters. You can make volunteering more appealing by defining boundaries before they start.

Fact 5: In addition to governance and structure, there is a better way which involves a leadership pipeline*. If everything that isn’t getting done by staff or other volunteers automatically falls to the board chair, the job is too overwhelming for most volunteers. If you have a vice chair, or some similar role who helps shadows and assists the chair while learning the job, it will be easier. If you have a few people who know they are in the pipeline, they will help because they care. And because they want help when they step into the role. We are all a little self-serving even in our volunteer roles and that is okay.

Fact 6: You can get started on your own by reading MJA’s How to Engage New Board Members: Strengthening Your Nonprofit Board. Click here to learn about this invaluable resource and order your own copy—either in print or in digital format.

Fact 7: This may seem impossible, but you can turn it around for your nonprofit. If, after reading this, you still feel like you will be scrambling for your next board chair. Let’s talk.

Sign up for a free 30-minute consultation. It won’t solve all your problems, but it can send you down the right path.

*In this case I am defining a leadership pipeline as at least one person who is on deck for the chief volunteer leadership role. It could be that you have 4 vice-chairs who move up to board chair or that you have 1 chair-designate who is learning about the role before they step into it. Either way, such a process provides for an orderly transition of leadership.

Dealing With Disruptive Board Member(s)

The Disruptive Board Member EffectTwo organizations with which we have been working have very similar concerns.  At each nonprofit, there is at least one board member who is disruptive to meetings. And both have leadership that want that to change.

The Disruptive Board Member(s)

Based on a board member’s personal approach—often rooted in personality—there is at least one person who:

  • Likes to point out problems but has no time or willingness to help with solutions
  • Insists that their solutions are the only way to find a successful path forward
  • Cannot get past a specific issue resolved in a way they did not support so that now they are having trouble supporting anything
  • Tries to dominate the meeting (or specific agenda items)
  • Believes the cohort they represent needs more attention or resources
  • Is invested and wants to understand the details of decisions but doesn’t have enough time to participate in committee work. (Which often translates into someone who wants to revisit every committee recommendation in a deep dive at board meetings)

How does the rest of the board feel?

The result is that one bad apple can upset the cart. Or, in this case make the board meeting uncomfortable for everyone.

Not everyone is going to raise their hand and tell you they don’t enjoy volunteering for your nonprofit. Instead, they may step off the board at the first opportunity, make less of an effort to be at meetings and make your nonprofit less of a priority in their lives. And once a volunteer has shifted focus to other nonprofits or life-priorities, it’s not easy to bring them back.

What can be done?

If this has been going on for some time, one meeting will not change how everyone feels. Like stewardship or altering a donor’s perception of your organization, it will take consistent proof that change is happening. But you can start showing your intentions by:

  • Moving the agenda along. Keep time and limit conversations to predetermined timeframes. There will be some conversations that need to be extended, but not every conversation falls into this category. You probably already know who a good timekeeper will be. Asking that person for help will show that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of individual board members and you are trying to make change.
  • Having a private one-on-one conversation, outside of the board meeting, can help the person(s) in question feel heard.
    • Express to the board member that, to you, it feels as if they want a deeper understanding of the development/finance/program decisions. If this is true, suggest they join the committee where the discussions can go deeper on certain issues- when they have an hour or more to consider the issue. If they cannot/will not join the committee – ask them for suggestions as to how they can participate without diminishing the committee’s work prior to the meeting.
    • Explaining that as board-chair you are having trouble getting through the agenda in a timely way – and ask if they have suggestions. Be open to the responses. It may be that many members want fewer agenda items with deeper discussion or that allowing a deeper dive on one pre-determined issue would feel more meaningful.
    • Repair damage by making it less personal. We can assume that everyone is at the board table because they care, but just as in any for-profit business, decisions often have to be made for the good of the organization and not necessarily the good of the individual board members. We all have to get past our personal issues and focus on the larger organizational goals.
  • Training sessions reminding board members of:
    • Their responsibilities to the nonprofit
    • The value of introverts. Allowing the loudest board members to have the most impact is dismissing the importance of an introvert’s value to your board.
    • Basic skills that when absent can derail board meetings. (Think about how many people at the table understand how to read a P&L vs. asking questions that are obvious to those in the know)
  • Holding a retreat to regain consensus. Sometimes, people have to be reminded of the positive energy that can happen within the group. Using ice breakers, small group exercises that acknowledge different learning styles (pictures help some people think outside of the box and oral stories help others.

And, of course, if you would like help with your specific board’s governance issue or your nonprofit’s next retreat, email me by clicking here.

A Guide to Powering Up your Board Member Recruitment

Board Member Recruitment Let me start by saying that before you focus on board member recruitment, you need a standing committee on governance and leadership development. If you don’t, read this or this first.

OK, now we are on the same page and everyone understands the importance of a standing committee on governance and leadership development.  Among the ten basic responsibilities of board members is one that states thatthe board should “replace itself.” But, board member recruitment means that you have to continually generate and explore prospects for leadership roles in the organization as well as for potential board members. Here are 8 ideas for your committee to test out:

  1. Consider your constituents/members. One of the life lessons we are learning from the upcoming mid-term elections is that people seem to want to be represented by people who look and act like themselves. Board member recruitment should include representatives of your work. Members, current/former beneficiaries, or program participants can all be considered.
  2. Think about who has reached out to you. People who are looking to get more involved but first want to peek behind the scenes at a nonprofit will often reach out to you. They will invite the Executive Director or another staff member for coffee or to meet up. It might be after an event, “I will be at pancake breakfast with my kids, can we talk for a few minutes about this idea I had for a wine tasting event.” Whether or not you want to add a wine tasting is irrelevant – that person is thinking about how to help your nonprofit. And that is a good indicator that they may want a deeper involvement.
  3. Look at your committee members. This is a tried and true method of identifying potential board members who are committed to the organization and do what they say they will do.
  4. Read your donor lists. Now focus in on the cumulative giving lists. If your nonprofit means enough to them to give year after year, they have already demonstrated their passion for your mission and vision.
  5. Perform a formal search. This will take time and energy, but if you think you have people who would get more involved, if only they were asked to do more than serve pancakes, offer them the opportunity to raise their hands. Put out calls on social media (LinkedIn could be incredibly valuable here), in newsletters or hand written notes to target specific people. List opportunities to join different committees that could use an infusion of new volunteers (read: all committees). Finance, development, events, governance, programs, marketing, and/or membership are all options.
  6. Ask your current board members who are not on the governance and leadership development committee for suggestions. This may seem obvious, but over time a strong committee might not be soliciting nominations from other board members.
  7. Look outside the box. Contact local organizations that train board members (e.g., United Ways) or look online to nonprofit board recruitment sites.
  8. Talk to your current volunteers. Some volunteers want to help a day here or there with no long-term commitment. But, if you ask your volunteer coordinator who the most reliable volunteers are, there will be obvious answers.

Of course, once you identify candidates, the next step is to research them. But I will save that for another article on board member recruitment.

This Year’s Top 10 MJA Articles

This Year's Top 10 MJA ArticlesI am jumping on the December bandwagon and offering you this year’s top 10 MJA articles in an easy to read list. This is based on your readership, but we know that not everyone can read our blog/newsletter each week. If I missed one that you felt was valuable, please let me know and I’ll forward it along next week.  Happy Holidays.

  1. It’s That Time Again – Here Are 11 Annual Appeal Tips

  2. 4 Types of Bequests and Estate Gifts – Part 1 of Planned Giving Explained

  3. 3 Complicated Planned Gift Options Explained – Part 2 of Planned Giving Explained
  4. Behavioral Interview Questions for a Nonprofit Executive Search by David A. Mersky

  5. How Many Words Do You Need For A Fall Annual Appeal Letter? or any mail or email solicitation

  6. Be Thankful for the Gift and Move On

  7. Pareto’s Principle is No Longer the Standard in Fundraising

  8. Are You Incorporating these 9 Short-term Fundraising Goals into Your 2017 Plan? It might be too late for 2017, but it’s not to early for 2018.
  9. The Role of the Executive Director in Nonprofit Governance by David A. Mersky

  10. Lessons on Turning Around a Bad Experience at Your Nonprofit

If there are specific topics you would like to see addressed in 2018, please email me, by clicking here

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 

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

David A. Mersky imageThe single most important committee of a nonprofit organization’s board is its committee on governance and leadership development (whatever it may be called).  It is charged with identifying and successfully engaging the future leadership of the agency.

Regrettably, in many nonprofits, about six weeks before the annual meeting, the current president or chair of the board wakes up and realizes that he or she had better appoint a “nominating” committee to find people to fill vacancies and choose a new “class” of board members. Great organizations don’t have to do that because they have a standing committee that works year-round to propose criteria for and select potential board members, cultivate their interest in the nonprofit, present them to the board for approval, orient new members to their responsibilities, involve them in the life and work of the board, recognize their achievements, evaluate individual member’s performance and plan for a regular governing board self-assessment processes.

The board’s role is to recruit members of the committee on governance and leadership development and define its responsibilities in writing, either in the bylaws, or in a board resolution.

Specific Responsibilities of the Committee on Governance and Leadership Development

To identify, research, cultivate, recruit, orient, involve, acknowledge and evaluate strong new board members appropriate to current and future needs of your nonprofit.

  1. Review the basic responsibilities and “best practices” literature of nonprofit boards.
  2. Plan for leadership development—for the board, itself, and standing and ad hoc committees.
  3. Prepare annual schedule for a board, all standing and ad hoc committees and individual board and committee member reviews and evaluations.
  4. Assess the current makeup of the board, recognizing strengths as well as weaknesses and identifying potential board members to fill gaps.
  5. Assemble a confidential, cumulative, ongoing list of prospective board and committee members that addresses the needs of the agency for the next several years. Put names in priority order to cultivate. Update every six months, or as necessary.
  6. Cultivate and recruit new board and committee members.
  7. Present names and backgrounds of candidates to board for election or to the committee chair for appointment.
  8. Orient new board and committee members in the context of the first meeting of the “new” board each year.
  9. Ensure all members of the board and committees are active in meaningful work that furthers the organization’s mission and vision. Acknowledge and appreciate participation and contributions of individuals as appropriate..

Leadership is the sine qua non for the success of any venture. To accomplish their missions successfully, nonprofit organizations and, particularly their governing boards and committees, must attract high caliber people, the leaders of our communities, regions and nation, people with vision and commitment, willing to work cooperatively and effectively to contribute their talents and resources.  It is only through the effective work of the organization’s committee on governance and leadership development that the nonprofit can succeed.

LAST MONTH: A New Year…A New Chance for Stronger, Effective and Productive Board
NEXT MONTH: Assessing the Current Makeup of Your Nonprofit Board

Want to read more on Nonprofit Govcrnance? Consider:

What Your Pop-Up Nonprofit Nominating and Governance Committee Will Miss

Want to know how Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help your nonprofit’s Board and Governance? Click here.

A New Year…A New Chance for a Stronger Effective and Productive Nonprofit Board

David A. Mersky imageTonight—if you are reading this on January 3, 2012—begins the formal portion of the quadrennial, but, truly, never-ending quest for the Presidency of the United States. For the next ten-plus months, we will hear about leadership and its importance.

Regardless of your politics, even if you are one of our overseas subscribers, we are all in agreement that leadership is the single most-important element of the success of any venture. We have written about it in many ways and many places. In our Organizational and Development Assessment, there is a brief essay on Why Now is A Great Time to Fundraise. In that piece we say:

Strong, compelling cases that answer the question, “Why should I give?” presented by weak leaders face an uphill battle. But you can raise a lot of money even for a mediocre case if the leaders are passionate. The bottom line is that people are ultimately more important than the case, and donors are considerably more likely to invest their philanthropic dollars when they believe in and are inspired by an institution’s leadership. Your job is to motivate leadership to do the things they may least be inclined to do.

Governing boards, whatever they may be called, are the valuable steering wheels of nonprofits and are responsible for fulfilling their varied and worthwhile missions. To help your nonprofit organization advance and grow, it is critical to develop a stronger effective and productive nonprofit board. Such a board is potentially your most important instrument — both for strengthening the organization and for raising money.

In the coming months, we will dedicate the first Tuesday to a full-blown consideration of the governance and leadership development process in the nonprofit organizational setting. The key obstacles to an involved, concerned, participatory governing board are the absence of a:

  1. written rationale for the existence and role of the board;
  2. studied design for the composition criteria of the board;
  3. regular on site/in-house orientation;
  4. clear statement of the function of individual board members and the board as a whole; and/or
  5. management control and evaluation of the board and its members by the board itself not only the chairperson of the organization and its Chief Executive Officer.

In addition, on Wednesday January 18, at 3:00 PM EST, I will host a one-hour webinar on Leadership Engagement—The Key to Capacity Building. You can register for this webinar—and check out other free webinars by visiting https://merskyjaffe.com/knowledge-archive/webinars/.


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