Preventive Medicine for Non Profit Boards

Commit to Annual Wellness Checks for Your Organization

By Joseph John

Whenever you read the news, you can’t avoid seeing the numerous health-related articles. Health news is everywhere, whether it’s The Affordable Care Act, wellness, insurance, healthy living, exercise, and so forth.

What isn’t news is the fact that we have always known that people should get annual wellness checks, one of the best procedures for preventative medicine. Yes, routine medical checkups instead of becoming a real life actor being wheeled into the emergency room and the professional staff beginning the complicated triage process, as the vital life signs are being analyzed.

Whew. Kind of depressing thought isn’t it? Well, let’s move the triage process, and the severity of the Emergency Room to the nonprofits. Yes, triage for nonprofits. How many nonprofits are consistently being admitted to the emergency room? Doesn’t it make a lot more sense for nonprofits to get annual wellness checkups before there are serious consequences to the health of the organization?

So, in this annual wellness checkup, what is the “doctor” looking for to ensure the health of the non profit organization? What has changed over the year? Any change in the “vital signs”? Any new “allergies?” Well, the non profit wellness checklist could include the following items (this is NOT all-inclusive) with each one followed by a checkmark under categories such as “excellent, good, fair, or poor” followed by “commentary,” “prognosis” and “prescription (if needed):”

1)     Vision, Mission, and Values

2)     Bylaws

3)     Membership drives

4)     Funding — short and long range including legacy programs

5)     Organizational objectives and benchmarks (1-3-5 year plans)

6)     Committee structures and board member participation

7)     Board member assessments

8)     Staff assessments

9)     Current marketing & communications processes (communications audit)

10)   Special projects

11)   Community awareness

As you can see, the list is extensive, but not all-inclusive. However, it certainly is a good start to begin the annual checkup to check out the health of the organization. What must be on the list has to be an endless and thorough list of all the factors that contribute to the health and well-being of the non profit organization.

In other articles, I have referred to the Mediocrity-Good-Great continuum. In other words, the annual physical will help determine if your organization is “just getting by” or if your organization is in great shape and should keep up the good work of “healthy habits”.

Commit to Organizational Wellness — your organization’s primary New Year’s resolution, each-and-every year.

 

 

Non Profit Board Resolutions for 2014

Is Your Non Profit Board Ready to Tackle 2014?

By Joseph John

Two years ago, I wrote an article about making and keeping non profit board resolutions. I thought it would be fair to dust off that document from 2012 and see what — if anything — has changed with your non profit’s organizational resolutions for the New Year.

The first question you need to ask is this: Were there ANY formalized resolutions for 2012 or 2013? Was there a board retreat (or at least a special meeting) to determine goals/resolutions for those years? Another question: Were there ANY personal commitments from board members to contribute to the organization’s growth, health, and well-being? And so here we are heading into 2014; what has your organization accomplished over the past two years? What do you hope to accomplish in 2014?

Non profit board resolutions are really no different than the personal resolutions individuals make. Oh yes, there are always great intentions behind those resolutions, but invariably, there are periods through the year that the resolutions tail-off into a nose-dive, one-by-one. What resolutions an organization needs are the same as an individual — manageable resolutions. Yes manageable resolutions that will encourage board commitment AND follow-through during the entire year.

You’ve probably seen dozens of resolutions before, but let’s reinforce some of the ones below that you and your board can and should make. These are resolutions that will ultimately make a difference to the community you serve.

First things first: Determine where your organization exists on the mediocrity-good-great continuum. What will move you and the organization from mediocrity to good. What will move you from good to great? [Note: see my article “Moving Beyond Mediocrity”]

Second: You may remember an article I wrote regarding “Organizational Milestones.” In that article, I stated that an historical timeline creates a better grasp for seeing trends over the almost thirteen years since the millennium to determine what the next one, three, or five years might look like. It’s a great planning tool. And yes, I’ve already tested this concept with a number of associations that I deal with — and they collectively say “OMG…that would be fantastic for all of us to review.”

Let me ask you: Does your non profit organization have the organizational “guts”, that is, the commitment, to set the bar higher, and to venture into new markets that you haven’t approached before? Is your organizational “vision” aggressive enough to make reaching for new goals a real challenge?

The following resolutions, or goals, are not new. You’ve seen them before. However, it’s time to review each one and determine which of the following items your organization can achieve in order to reach higher and ultimately move from Mediocrity to Good to Greatness. Let’s recap:

Friend (member) raise. Remember the axiom: “Friend raising comes before fund raising.”

Open the box. Now seal it! Be different. Be unique. Make people say, “now that’s a unique and creative non profit organization.”

Raise communication awareness internally. Start talking to each other — board members and staff members. If you can’t communicate clearly among yourselves, then the next resolution is going to fall flat on its face.

Raise communication awareness in the community. Again, “open the box” and start thinking of unique ways that will generate POSITIVE communication throughout the community.

Raise your hand. That’s right! Don’t sit on your hands. When you start leaning towards delegation, then delegate to yourself first.

Raise the bar. Set some higher goals for friend raising, fund raising, and other initiatives that require going that “extra mile,” and beyond!

Dust off the bylaws, vision, mission, and values. Challenge, if need be. Change or modify them if necessary. DON’T wait. Mediocrity is mired in dusty old bylaws, vision, mission, and values.

Take ownership. “It’s Your Board.” Make yourself an owner of the organization and begin pushing for excellence, unity, and most importantly trust.

Sow the seeds of board recruitment. Recruit and groom new talent on the board and that means looking towards the “X” and “Y” generations so they can become the future leaders on your non profit board and great community spokespersons.

Try a fresh coat of paint. Determine if your organization’s image needs a fresh coat of paint to create a brand new, and vibrant, organization to the community.

Plan for the future. Focus on the here-and-now with an eye for keeping the pipeline of future funding open for your organization.

Say “thank you.” Two little words are two HUGE words. “Thank you” is one of the greatest ice-breakers, which leads right into friend-raising — and the cycle continues from friend raising to fund raising.

The previous twelve (12) resolutions were presented in 2012 and again in 2013. Has anything changed in your non profit organization since then? Go ahead and rank-order the ones that you and your fellow board members can work on immediately. Commit to excellence. Resolve to keep your resolutions for 2014. Remember that keeping your resolutions will result in benefits for you, your organization, and the communities you serve.

Non Profits: Reaching Across the Aisle

And Reaching Across the Non Profit Boardroom Table

By Joseph John

My good friend and I were having coffee recently and discussing everything from sports to — gulppolitics. We both rolled our eyes at the fact that our leaders in Washington have become so combative, so alienated, so out-of-touch, that they have fallen deaf to the electorate. Unfortunately, they seem to be focused strictly on their personal agendas — not their constituents’ wishes. Republicans, Democrats, and whatever’s seem to forget that it’s the good of the country that should be their primary focus, and not a matter of W’s and L’s on their personal scorecard. Oh, yes, I can be naive. However, politics and the country’s direction can’t be construed as a game. Well, I could continue, but the focus of this article is not on the dysfunction in Washington D.C.

No. Unfortunately, dysfunction, personal agendas, and personal scorecards find their way into every strata of society, and that includes the non profit sector. “Oh, surely you jest, Mr. John. Isn’t “altruism” the rule of the day in the nonprofit sector?” Oh, PUHLEASE.

Think about how many people join a non profit board and immediately bring THEIR personal agenda to the table. Reflect on the number of boards you have joined and the lineup of folks who already are lobbying hard for their ideas to be implemented. I’m sure you have dealt with some people who tend to implement roughshod over other board members’ beliefs and values. It seems to take virtually no time at all for some board members to alienate others because, quite simply, their philosophy is this: My way or the highway.

Many of my articles have focused on individuals — the people who hold up their hands to join a non profit board. People joining a board are coming in from so many directions, mindsets and lifestyles.  With that in mind, my question(s) are always the same: Just WHY did you join the board? What’s in it for you? What is that you want to achieve and do for society? And just as important, did the membership/nominating committee perform due diligence in screening this person?

A non profit board, unfortunately, is not insulated from the same negative human traits that we see on a daily basis in Washington or state capitals for that matter. It appears to me that there are too many people who believe that compromise is a weakness rather than a strength.  “I won’t give in. I won’t yield. My way is the correct way and the only way.”

Compromise is not a weakness — it is a strength. Compromise is strength because you have the organization’s best interest(s) at heart, not your personal agenda. You are willing to reach across the aisle/across the boardroom table because the good of the organization is more important than your personal agenda. A dear friend who was involved in contract negotiations prior to her retirement says that “compromise is a way for all sides to ‘win’ something. Unless it is a life threatening issue, compromise is always possible.”

Remember one of the most important questions the membership committee was supposed to ask the potential candidate: CAN you/WILL you learn to “play nice” and become a TEAM player with a group of people who also are contributing their free time to serve? Somewhere, in that interviewing process, questions have to be asked in such a way as to ensure the candidate understands the role of the individual in relation to the good of the non profit organization.

Melanie Lockwood Herman, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, best captures the importance of compromise, ie, reaching across the table or aisle, with this comment:

Compromise is a basic instinct for non profit leaders. Discerning when compromise may impair mission fulfillment, however, is a skill we must learn and practice. Resisting the urge to compromise may not be easy, but it is necessary to protect the mission of your organization and your commitment to deliver on that mission each and every day.

Yes, in the ideal world, the nonprofit sector can be the prototype of collaboration and compromise for ALL sectors of society to work for the common good — it’s just a matter of reaching across the aisle.

Non Profits: Moving Beyond Mediocrity

Non Profit Mediocrity Can Be Changed

By Joseph John

A month or so ago, as I was leaving a meeting, I overheard an associate mutter something under his breath. I caught up to him and asked him “Hey, [name], I didn’t quite catch what you just said.”

He looked at me and smiled — or was it a pained grimace? He said, “Good to Great.” And then he added “some people should read that book.” He shook his head, and again I saw the look on his face.

My associate’s look and his comment took me aback briefly because I realized that he was so right. He did not have to elaborate. The non profit organization to which he was referring: was it good and didn’t know how to get to great? Or worse, yet, was it just mediocre?

I thought about that statement and I realized that the organization he was referring to was truly mired in mediocrity. Yes, an organization that majored in and was mired in mediocrity. That organization has a long journey before it even gets to good, let alone great.

When I got home, I scoured my bookshelf for yet another well-written classic of organizational behaviors and mindsets: GOOD TO GREAT, Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins. Yes, that was what my associate was referring to.

Collins talks about the Nucor System which “…rejected the old adage that people are your most important asset. In a good-to-great transformation, people are not your most important asset. The right people are.” Do we say “Amen” or “Right On” to that statement?  How many organizations look for someone just to fill a seat on the board rather than perform due diligence to determine if that person is a good “fit’ for the board?

Yes, Collins’ research is geared to the for-profit arena; however, there are just too many salient points in his book that can be applied to the non profit sector as well. He states that “Good is the Enemy of Great.” YIKES! If that’s the case, is it safe to assume that Mediocrity is the enemy of Good? Visually, this is what the Mediocrity continuum looks like:

Mediocrity                      >                       Good                          >                           Great

Gee, does our non profit organization enjoy being all the way over to the left-hand side of Greatness?

Now, let me pose the next question about non profit organizational behavior: How many degrees are there between mediocrity and good?  Oh, I’m sure there might be degrees that can be measured as an organization moves along the continuum to being good. But, instead of degrees of separation from being good, I believe it’s really a matter of shaking off as many of the traits that comprise mediocrity and prohibit the movement towards good.

Some of those traits are: complacency, lack of vision, unwillingness to establish stretch goals, unwillingness to measure productivity and accountability, preaching the gospel of “we never did it that way before,” and the list goes on.

Andrew Carnegie stated, “People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.” Based on Carnegie’s quote, I believe it is safe to say that many nonprofit organizations don’t attempt to find (or can’t) the best-of-the-best to sit on the board of directors. And why? Simply because they have no concept of greatness or the potential for their board and the organization to be good and then great. They’re mired in a culture of mediocrity and fail to focus on the personality traits that need to be fixed to be able to move along the continuum.

Going through the motions, year-after-year is mediocrity. Not challenging each other to establish stretch goals is mediocrity. Not challenging and questioning the status quo is mediocrity. Not establishing a year-long friend and fundraising campaign is mediocrity. Not holding every board member accountable for results and positive growth is mediocrity. Not electing visionary leaders and doers is mediocrity.

Yes, I think you can see that mediocrity is a negative trait. It’s a trait that creates a delusional sense of self-satisfaction when, in fact, the organization is underachieving and, in essence, failing.

As a good friend said, when I discussed this article with her, the response was “Is mediocrity the contentment with where you are, or the fear of reaching higher?  It just takes one step….” Yes, just one step: a commitment to change and change with the right people.

The Most Important Committees for Non Profits

Nominating/Membership and Marketing/Communications/PR Rule the Roost

By Joseph John

I recently conducted a workshop for a group of State Coordinators at the Sister Cities International Annual Conference.  During my two hour workshop, my topics always found their way back to a major premise I have always held for non profit organizations — yes, I did use the workshop as my soapbox. I have always believed that the two most important committees are 1) the Nominating/Membership Committee and 2) the Marketing/Communications/PR committee.

All forward-thinking non profit organizations find the best-of-the-best to sit on the board of directors, as well as finding the “critical mass” needed to build the membership base required to keep the organization vibrant, exciting, and growing. Plus, those forward-thinking non profit organizations require a committee that understands the mechanics and nuances of communication and marketing. Theoretically, if you’re communicating properly then you’re marketing the organization. The inverse of that statement is de facto. As your board members embark on fund raising campaigns, volunteer for special events and speak at public gatherings, they are communicating AND marketing.

For this article, however, allow me to focus on the “front door” approach for bringing quality people into your boardroom — and that begins with the nominating committee. That committee is charged with finding qualified people (and those with passion) to add to your board.

I’ve mentioned in other articles the necessity of turning on one of the most famous radio stations in the world: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Your nominating committee must take many of the questions that a potential board member should be asking him/herself and then craft those questions into screening questions for the prospective board member:

Question: Do you want recognition, or do you really want to serve and give back to the community? (egoism versus altruism).

If you can move past that question, then you must ask some even more direct and thought-provoking questions. Those additional questions include:

1) CAN you/WILL you grow as a board member and add value to the board?

2) CAN you/WILL you become a valuable asset to the community?

3) CAN you/WILL you learn to “play nice” and become a team player with a group of people who also are contributing their free time to serve?

4) CAN you/WILL you articulate your belief in the organization and be credible out in public?

Those questions can be rewritten so that your nominating committee may use them as part of the interviewing process for potential candidates. Of course, there are many, many more tough love and necessary questions you and your committee should ask.

Your non profit board needs to be comprised of people, of all ages—Boomers, Gen Xer’s and Yer’s — who are both donors and doers. The board member must be willing to donate financially to the organization while doing projects for the betterment of the organization. Remember that many boards don’t have many people to delegate to, so board members must be willing to roll up their sleeves and become doers.

Your nominating committee should create a checklist of personality traits that can be used in the interviewing process. Just some of those traits would include:

  • Accountability — it’s not a dirty word.
  • Accessibility — answer the phone, your emails, and be ready to serve.
  • Personal commitment — sign up, then be ready to serve.
  • People-oriented and outgoing
  • Leadership and Listening skills
  • Responsiveness and Reliability

And the list continues.

The nominating committee should always be searching for the ideal candidate — it’s not a temporary committee assignment — rather, it’s an active committee assignment. The committee must always comb the community to find the best people to become board members. And why? Simply because there will always be board member attrition. And that’s why the committee must be proactive in in order to build a strong bench. My manager used to say “recruit or die.” And that’s what can happen to a non profit board if the nominating committee isn’t out looking for candidates all the time. Believe me, by being proactive your organization will eliminate knee-jerk and “desperation mode” board member appointments.

I think you’ll agree that if you have a nominating committee that is always searching for talented, energetic people to sit on your board, you’ll have a non profit organization that will be defined as dynamic and capable of achieving lofty goals.

Non Profit Organizations – Can You Make a Decision?

Is Your Non Profit Organization Suffering from Analysis Paralysis?

By Joseph John

It’s not a perfect world, and it’s definitely not a perfect world in the non profit sector when it comes to decision making.

Decisions have to be made, and projects need to be implemented — on a timely basis. And yet, there are too many non profit boards that suffer from Analysis Paralysis.

Wikipedia defines Analysis Paralysis as “…the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation, or citing sources, so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises.

We talk about a non profit board’s “fiduciary responsibility,” and yet, we tend to ignore, or mention another major board responsibility — the need to ACT. I believe that a board’s inactivity and fear of initiating projects on a timely basis ranks extremely high on the list of costly board errors.

“Let’s discuss this at the next meeting,” or “I think we need more time,” or “ I think we need more information.” Sound familiar?

Are there any ground rules a board can establish in order to avert that insidious organizational illness called Analysis Paralysis? The answer simply is “yes.”

Here are some basic steps to get your non profit organization moving towards a healthy and vibrant organization.

  1. Eliminate the fear of failure. Failure only occurs when you don’t do anything.
  2. Accept the unknown. There is not enough data to eliminate the unknown — it’s a fact of life.
  3. Eliminate the search for more data by establishing a “no read” zone and a “no more data” zone — and stick to those rules.
  4. Establish a timeline by putting a stake in the ground — and stick to it (no pun intended).
  5. Establish ground rules for implementing your specific project — and stick to those ground rules.
  6. Establish board consensus that the entire board is unified and committed to action; and willing to take the kudos and the lumps, if they occur.
  7. Embrace the fear of inactivity.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to a non profit board by moving forward? Nothing negative. And why? Because you have just given the “data seekers and crunchers” even more data to analyze once the project has been implemented.

So, eliminate Analysis Paralysis and make your organization Nike-like — “Just Do It!”

Public Relations and the Rise of SXSW

By Tiffany Engleman

Professionals in the field of public relations have been creating positive buzz about organizations for years. The music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) has been held in Austin, Texas since 1986, but until recently, was relatively unknown to the rest of the United States. Through news releases and first-rate press materials, SXSW’s public relations team along with Porter Novelli (an Austin-based public relations firm) began to expand the festival into something much greater than just music. SXSW was then able to create brand recognition as well as brand recall across the country.

  • To begin spreading the word about SXSW, these public relations professionals constructed a campaign to widely advertise an exciting and new aspect of the event. In August 2008, a news release was published revealing the introduction of the “Panel Picker” to help create a preliminary buzz for the March 2009 event. The “Panel Picker” was an interactive online voting application that attendees would be able to access and vote prior to the festival.
  • Porter Novelli also constructed an assortment of first-rate press materials. The press kit included a concise schedule, “hot” picks for panel and evening activities, industry contact information, and personalized event information. Toolkits were also provided that included press release templates, wire distribution options, and PR advice for the conference.

Through the tactics of news releases and press kits, South by Southwest has been able to join the SXSW Film Conference and SXSW Interactive Festival and expand their identity across the country to attract a significant number of new people to the conference. public relations professionals knew they had reached new heights when the Guardian of London reported, “SXSW Interactive spans gaming, web content, web design, development, academia, social media, mobile…but what it does more than any other event is a special mix of the arts and digital culture with technology. There are no suits, no boring product pitches, — SXSW is about ideas and trends in new digital tools and technologies.

Sourcing: Wilcox, Dennis L., Cameron, Glen T., Reber, Bryan H., & Shin, Jae-Hwa. (2011). Think Public Relations. Boston, Massachusetts: Pearson Education.