Category Archives: Governance

Making the Most of Volunteers

Are your volunteers worth their weight in gold, or are they simply weighing you down?

By Laura Edman, Vice President, The Alford Group   Read Laura’s Bio

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why do I bother with volunteers? It would be so much easier if I just do this myself.”

I admit it; over my 30-plus years as a fundraising professional, that thought has crossed my mind more than once. Yet whenever that happens, I think about the many times during my career when volunteers have made the critical difference between success and failure, between reaching that stretch campaign goal and falling short, or between successfully recruiting that key board member and having them turn down the opportunity.

So, how can you make sure that your volunteers really are worth their weight in gold, instead of being too much trouble to bother with? Here are some tips that might help you and some resources for more information. Continue reading

Optics Matter: Avoiding Red Flags that Undermine Your Fundraising Efforts

By Amy Hines, Senior Vice President, The Alford Group

With the start of an unprecedented intergenerational wealth transfer, not-for-profits have a lot to gain by avoiding any inadvertent pitfalls that deter potential donors from contributing to their efforts. With access to the internet, donors do not have to rely on government scrutiny to avoid unscrupulous charities (Besides, government entities have limited authority as watchdogs). Donors can look for evidence themselves, vetting charities with a tap or a click.

Maintaining integrity is key—but ensuring that an organization’s optics convey that integrity is also essential.

A potential donor’s due diligence before opening her wallet, is likely to take place by heeding to the credo–“follow the money.” While that may in fact be just a line in a movie, it resonates in the philanthropic ether as a sound way to approach investigating an organization’s worthiness.

How do potential donors assess the money trail? There are several logical ways:

  1. Look at the organization’s website to see if financial information is being reported in a transparent way.
  2. Go online to GuideStar, the primary resource for accessing an organization’s IRS 990 and comparing similar organizations.
  3. Go online to Charity Navigator to see how the organization is rated.
  4. Go online to BBB Wise Giving, to check out whether they have been accredited as a trustworthy national organization.

 

It’s important for not-for-profits to manage the optics of their organizations in these four locations. Here’s how. Continue reading

Corporate-nonprofit partnerships in the land of impossible expectations

5 must-haves to fortify partnerships against the elements

By Diane Knoepke, Vice President, The Alford Group  Read Diane’s Bio

Almost every company is a good fit for at least a handful of nonprofits, and every company is a bad fit for quite a few nonprofits. The inverse is also true: almost every nonprofit is a good fit for at least a handful of businesses, and every nonprofit is a bad fit for quite a few companies.

With increasingly discerning audiences, a volatile political climate, blurred lines that used to seem bright, and the unprecedented speed of change and information, what must nonprofits and companies do to successfully partner with one another?

How to fortify partnerships against the elements

Any partnership without a little bit of risk is also likely a partnership without any value or interest. Of course, we all know there are good risks and bad risks. Below you will find ways to make sure the risks you take are planned and smart and likely to have great returns. Here are the five must-haves for a successful corporate-nonprofit partnership: Continue reading

Nonprofit Board Leaders and CEOs: Find excellent board members with these simple tips

By Molly Hansen, Vice President, The Alford Group   Read Molly’s Bio

How to find great, or even good, nonprofit board members is an ongoing challenge. For many nonprofit organizations the board development issue feels especially urgent right now. The competition for good board members is increasing.

The philanthropic environment has nearly recovered from the Great Recession, but many philanthropists are still very cautious about where to invest their dollars, time and energy. Organizations who have been largely supported by government grants and contracts, their long-held intention to diversify their revenue through board members with financial capacity and connections, are now faced with the reality that it’s harder than they thought to find strong board members.

Regardless of the type of nonprofit you serve, its size, or the nature of your board and organizational funding, the following tips will help you get started on a productive path of board development. Continue reading

The Role of the Nonprofit Board – Board Qualifications and Responsibilities

If you’ve ever been part of a Board, you know that people join Boards for any number of reasons – personal, professional, social, self-interest, dedication to the mission of the organization. There are many benefits to individuals for volunteering as a Board member, not least of which is feeling that you’re giving back.

But, whatever the reason for Board membership, it’s always good to have a reminder handy of what the primary reasons are for the Board’s existence, and what the roles are that Board members fill. And, whether you’re a new or seasoned Board member, it’s good to know what your organization expects from you – and to check in on that from time to time to make sure your expectations are aligned.

We’ve put together a list of qualifications and responsibilities of Boards from our own experience and the resources at BoardSource. We also included some of the ideas from Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards by Richard Chait, William Ryan and Barbara Taylor.

Let us know your thoughts on this list. Is there anything missing? What is your top choice for most important qualification or responsibility? Click the link below to see the full list.

Board Member Qualifications and Responsibilities

The Alford Group in Movie Mondays

Our Senior Vice President and Midwest Division Manager, Brenda Asare, was featured this week in 501 Video’s Movie Monday! To see Brenda’s video, click here. If you haven’t already signed up for Movie Mondays, they are a great way to get insight from your colleagues in the not-for-profit world on issues from governance to major gifts to best practices in fundraising.

And here’s what Chris Davenport, creator of Movie Mondays, had to say about Brenda’s video:

Are your board members enthusiastic to come to board meetings? In this week’s movie, Brenda B. Asare from The Alford Group talks about how board meetings are being run differently to better engage their members and to be more effective. She has several ideas you may want to incorporate if you’re not already doing so.
 

The Alford Group is also working on another, top-secret project with 501 Videos, which will be released in a few weeks. Check back in with us to find out how you can get involved in our latest project.

The Unfortunate Lure of Small Not-For-Profit Governing Boards

pic_Committees1Over the past several years, many not-for-profits have begun to shrink their boards to sizes ranging from 9 to 12 people.  Both board and staff leaders have argued that a smaller board is more productive and easier to manage.  This model seems to be coming from the for-profit board where smaller boards are the norm (comparably) and chief executives are also the board chair (though this trend is changing as more corporate boards are choosing an independent director to be the chair of the board).

I would contend that the size of the board should be based on the amount of community engagement the organization wishes to have.  If a not-for-profit organization does not require significant community engagement then it does not need to structure itself with a large amount of community interaction.  However, if philanthropy is to play a role in the organization, then community engagement at the volunteer leadership level is essential.

Continue reading

The Role of the Board: What Board members should be thinking and doing

Last week, I wrote on how staff should be working to support the efforts of their not-for-profit board members.  A few days later I received a comment from a reader encouraging me to write about the board members’ responsibilities.  Over the years, I have kept a list of board member responsibilities that I have used during training sessions and board retreats, and I’ve allowed board members to offer comments and suggestions to edit, revise, and clarify their roles.  Here are several points from that document for your review and comment:

First, I believe boards have two functions: one, to “guard the mission” of the organization; and two, to hire, advise, and if necessary, replace the executive director (or CEO).

Roles for Boards to “Guard the Mission”:

  • Provide leadership to and approve a strategic plan for the organization
  • Assure that programming and financial allocations are focused on fulfilling the mission (guarding against “mission creep”)
  • Assure that proper financial stewardship is maintained
  • Contribute financially to the organization according to your means
  • Advocate for the organization to secure community and financial support
  • Open doors for staff who are seeking support from others
  • Continue to expand your knowledge of the community needs that the mission of the organization is addressing, and your knowledge of best practices to meet those needs
  • Participate in board meetings, demanding quality presentations from staff, and providing equal quality on your part during board and committee discussions
  • Offer your talents and time to serve on committees and/or as a committee chair or officer; when accepting an assignment, fulfill it to the best of your ability

Roles for Boards to “Hire, Advise and/or Replace” the Executive Director:

  • Annually set expectation goals for the executive staff leader that parallel and/or complement the goals in the strategic plan
  • Annually evaluate the executive staff leader on his/her performance toward fulfilling their goals and the organization’s strategic plan
  • Be available to offer expertise and counsel to the executive staff leader when called upon to do so
  • Hold executive sessions of the board that include the executive staff leader, and some sessions that do not include the executive staff leader, to discuss strategic direction of the organization and operational issues that need to be addressed by the board
  • Develop a succession plan that has both emergency implementation guidelines as well as strategic implementation for retirements and natural transitions
  • Hold the executive staff leader accountable for results, and when results are not consistently met, replace the executive staff leader

Recently I was conducting a board retreat and as we were discussing board roles and responsibilities, two comments from board members present were quite memorable.  First, as a board member, you are part of a team – so be a good teammate and team player.  Second, a board member should be willing to accept any role, including board chair, without aspiring to have that role.  The second quality speaks to servant leadership and the importance it has for the success of a quality board and a quality organization.

So what have been your experiences and observations, and what else do you know about board roles and responsibilities?  I look forward to your comments and insights.

All the best and happy holidays,

Tom

The Managing of the Not-for-Profit Board

It has been my good fortune to work with hundreds of boards across America in all sectors of the not-for-profit world. Some boards are great, some not so great. Some boards function smoothly, some not so smoothly. And several organizations deliver very well on their missions despite their boards. So, what makes a great board? There are several characteristics, but one important aspect I wish to address today is board management. Boards that are well-managed and organized lead to engaged, high-functioning volunteers.

Earlier in my career, when I was the executive director of a hospital foundation, I served on 3 or 4 other boards outside the hospital. The experience taught me several lessons which helped me work with my own foundation board better.

As a board member I learned to show up for meetings – and noticed when meetings were not very effective. I began to observe my own foundation board’s full meetings and other committee meetings and whether they were exciting, engaging and filled with meaningful strategic discussion and purpose.

I learned to give financially commensurate with my ability and watched how the organization asked for my gift. Did they inspire me to do more, or attempt to guilt me for not doing enough? I learned not to guilt, but to inspire.

When looking at materials, did the organization overwhelm me with data and information, or underwhelm me with not enough information? I learned how to measure the right amount of information flow for each board member especially as it related to their respective role on a committee or as an officer.

I also watched how staff provided servant leadership, always prepared with information, or ready to seek it when it was requested. Being a board member elsewhere, made me a better staff member serving my board.

I learned the importance of hospitality and having a meeting place that was warm, welcoming and prepared for people with the right amount of chairs arranged for maximum participation of attendees. It was also good to have refreshments appropriate for the time of day and length of the meeting.

As our foundation staff grew over the years, I encouraged the staff to become board members in other organizations so that they might learn the same, and even better, lessons to enable them to serve their committee(s) with quality staff support.

Not-for-profit boards have an “ebb and flow.” Like people, they need to take time to refresh and renew, while still embracing the quality “tried and true” aspects of tradition and structure that may have brought success from the past. The not-for-profit board insures that the quality of an organization is sustained for years and years.

Please respond or comment on other key characteristics you have observed that boards have (or should have) and how those characteristics can be fostered, discovered, created and/or renewed in not-for-profit organizations.

I look forward to reading your ideas and insights.

All the best,

Tom