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Getting the Most from Your Board Webinar Q&A

By Molly Hansen and Laura Edman

During our recent webinar Getting the Most from Your Board: It’s a two-way street we had several questions from participants that we weren’t able to answer before the webinar ended. We’d like to share those questions – and our answers – with you here!

Q: Our board members are really busy people and never seem to have enough time to devote to our organization. How do you deal with that?

A: Be sure your meetings happen when the most board members can be there and change the day and/or time if needed. Be careful that board members don’t overcommit and sign up for too many activities or responsibilities. Think about how many meetings you have and cut back on unnecessary meetings or offer remote attendance options (video/phone).

Q: Our board attendance is really low. How can we encourage better attendance?

A: Be sure that your meetings are productive and really well-run. They should start and finish on time. Include key decisions and action items and discussion of strategic issues on the agenda, not just a bunch of reports. Include a “mission moment” that helps educate and inspire board members.

Q: What can we do to find and recruit really great board members?

A: Ask your current board members and your key staff for their ideas; share the job description and key characteristics you’re looking for with them so they know the kind of people you’re looking for. Review your donor list and consider people who are very loyal and/or generous donors. Review board lists from other successful not-for-profit organizations in your area and see if there is any overlap with your donor list. Once you’ve identified some great prospects, treat the recruitment process as strategically as you would a major donor approach.

Q: How do you “back track” with board members who came on the board with different expectations than the newer board members?

A: Meet with them 1-on-1 to explain the current expectations and why they are different than when they joined the board; find out if/why they are resistant to the current expectations; work with them to slowly “adopt” the current expectations. If all else fails, practice the “bless and release” strategy and also find another way for them to stay involved and engaged with your organization.

Q: If we want to set a minimum giving threshold for board members, what’s a good rule of thumb for how to set the actual dollar amount? And then, how do we communicate that minimum?

A: Minimum giving thresholds are complicated issues for nonprofits to consider. It depends on the size and mission of the organization. I know a major theatre that has a $50,000 “give and get” policy and a social service agency that has a $500 threshold. We recommend that all board members make a personal gift even if they have secured a contribution from their business. If there are community members on the board who have very limited means, we recommend that they give to the best of their means, at a level they would consider generous – even if it’s $5. The time to communicate this is in early recruiting conversations and include it in documented board expectations.

Q: What do you think about the pluses and minuses of users of your services being on the board. For example, for a school, what about parents of current students. Or for human services, what about an under-resourced person receiving your services?

A: It makes sense in many organizations to have what we often call ‘community members’ on boards and with some nonprofits they are required by their bylaws to have a percentage of their board comprising people who use their services, or live in the neighborhood.

Q: What is your opinion on board term limits?

A: We believe in term limits – even if it’s three three-year terms. Term limits require a disciplined and strategic approach to board development. Term limits bring additional talents and perspectives to the table. They allow organizations to “bless and release” underperforming board members. And, term limits recharge the batteries of the full board with new faces, new connections and new ideas. We recommend dividing the board into ‘classes’ and staggering terms. And be sure to keep engaged people involved after they rotate off through chairing or serving on committees – then invite them to re-join after the appropriate period of time.

Q: How do we get access to Board material samples that you mentioned?

A: You can download our full Board Toolkit here.

Q: What are some of the best online/free sources we can use to research potential board members?

A: We invite you to mine your donors for good board members: look for the donors who have given over many consecutive year and/or who are most generous. If they aren’t interested in your board, seek their advice on identifying new board members. Sit down with your current board members and do a relationship diagram or mapping exercise with them. Download: Relationship Mapping

And finally, consider these online tools:

Volunteer Match

LinkedIn for Nonprofits

If you have another question for us about how to get the most from your Board, send an email to either Molly Hansen, Vice President ( or Laura Edman, CFRE, Vice President (

Giving USA Numbers and Beyond

TAG group photo2Photo: Alford Group staff at As Good as It Gives: America’s Philanthropy Today on June 17, 2016 at Mesirow Financial in Chicago.


The Alford Group co-sponsored As Good as It Gives: America’s Philanthropy Today with Mesirow Financial in Chicago to share this year’s Giving USA numbers and discuss what the numbers mean for not-for-profit organizations.

Here are the main takeaways:

  1. Giving is on the rise

The Alford Group’s Executive Vice President Sharon Tiknis and Senior Consultant Diane Knoepke presented to the room and reported that 2015 was America’s most generous year ever, as donors collectively gave over $373 billion. Slide 7Giving is on a two-year increase, as 2014 was previously charted as the most generous year of giving. Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, giving has increased by 23 percent. Individuals continue to represent the majority of giving in America at 71 percent of total giving in 2015.


  1. Today’s donor looks less like Ned Flanders and more like Montgomery Burns

Dr. Daniel Hungerman from the University of Notre Dame spoke to us about long term giving trends. Even though giving to religion-affiliated organizations currently makes up approximately one-third (32 percent) of all giving, the trend is that as religion declines in the U.S. so does giving to religious organizations (fewer Ned Flanders donors).

[Simpsons characters Ned Flanders (left) and Montgomery Burns (right).]

At the same time, there is a rise in the inequality of giving. Dr. Hungerman reviewed the findings in his research showing what has long been the 80/20 rule now looks more like a 90/10 rule in philanthropic giving where 90% of the funds raised come from just 10% of donors (more Montgomery Burns donors).

Disheartened by this news? Don’t be. Despite this fact, philanthropy continues to be quite democratic in the United States, according to Dr. Patrick Rooney at the Lilly School, and when you consider that there are more American donors than American voters, those small gifts add up to make a meaningful difference.

  1. The way forward is through mission alignment

What does this all mean for you and your organization? The most effective way forward is to think strategically about mission alignment. This means aligning your operations with the outcome-focused vision from which your organization was built.

Specifically, this means aligning your strategy and tactics with your mission to ensure you are efficient and effective. This also means aligning your impact measurement with your mission to measure the outcomes of your work versus the outputs of your work. Finally, this means aligning donor messaging with your mission so that you are appealing to the donors’ passions rather than only the organization’s needs. The key is to always have your mission and your donors in mind.

To go even deeper and tackle these topics and more, please join us for The Alford Group Summer Webinar Series where we will explore bold strategies to advance philanthropy. We hope you can join us!

Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy is the seminal publication reporting on the sources and uses of charitable giving in the United States. The production and release of Giving USA is the result of the collaborative efforts of Giving USA Foundation, a public service initiative of The Giving Institute, and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The Alford Group is a founding member of the Giving Institute.

One Key Practice of Today’s Leading Cause Marketers

Feature Image 5 Midway through last week’s Cause Marketing Forum (CMF), during Katrina McGhee’s great talk on personal branding, I noted that a significant number of the CMF presenters—representing both causes and companies—were explicitly emphasizing one key practice. These cause marketing leaders focus on their strengths. They understand their organizational strengths and partner with others to mitigate their organizational weaknesses. In contrast to the trends earlier this decade when it started to feel like major cause marketers were shifting to owning self-made cause platforms over building partnership portfolios, this strengths-based approach is facilitating significant creativity and impact.

Instead of adopting a certain trend in structure or activation, today’s cause marketing leaders are focusing on what will work for them. For some, that is creating an owned national platform with local and agency partners providing support. For others, it is forging one or more partnerships of complementary opposites who each bring what the other needs. Through collaboration, they are then able to achieve the business and social impact results that they could not have achieved on their own.

Four Examples from Cause Marketing Forum 2016:

A few examples (of many, many more) that I found particularly instructive from last week’s event:

Youth1) Aria Finger, CEO of, highlighted how they use their deep understanding of what makes young people tick to ensure that their partnerships are meaningful (and hip).

  1. 2) Ido Leffler, Co-Founder and CEO of Yoobi, spoke of Yoobi’s core competencies (product, design, and creativity) and their need to find retail and cause partners to bring their vision for business and social impact to life, saying “We do what we do best and we partner with others to do the rest.”


3) Michael Meyer, Vice President of Donated Goods Retail and Marketing at Goodwill Industries International, spoke about how the organization is using its brand strength and retail footprint to provide value for partners, in return for the new audiences and distribution channels that partners like Uber and The Container Store provide.

4) 2016 Halo Award Best Digital Campaign Gold Winners Samsung and Autism Speaks Canada provided countless examples including the profound use of Samsung’s technological strength along with Autism Speaks Canada’s expertise and credibility in serving families living with autism. Together, they created and promoted an app that uses the rear-facing camera on a mobile device to help children with autism practice working on eye contact.

Whether we are designing a platform, portfolio, or single partnership, we must first get real about the strength of the currencies, competencies and capabilities that we have in the context of what we want to accomplish. Then, we need to fill the gaps through custom alliances that both expand on others’ strengths and fill a gap for them.

Thanks and kudos to each of the phenomenal cause marketers who presented and won awards at last week’s event.

Welcoming 2016, remembering Jimmie Alford, creating legacies


The following post comes to us from Maree Bullock, Vice President of The Alford Group, and wife of the late Jimmie Alford. We couldn’t think of a better way to ring in 2016 than to remember Jimmie’s contribution to our lives and the nonprofit sector, especially its future leaders. Enjoy the rest of 2015 and we’ll see you in the new year. Cheers.


Maree BullockDear Colleagues —

We create legacies throughout our lives — Some we choose — Others choose us!

Several years ago Jimmie chose to teach, mentor and coach the future generation of leaders in the not-for-profit sector. He was very intentional about that goal. In a formal way he taught at North Park University and Notre Dame University. Informally he mentored and coached hundreds — never turning down a request or an opportunity to explore career opportunities in the sector with those seeking his advice and counsel.

A few weeks ago, I hosted 5 Alford Scholars currently receiving financial assistance from the Jimmie R. Alford Scholarship Fund at North Park University. During our lunch together each scholar Jimmie Alfordshared their life story — their adversities and struggles — their determination to create their own legacies in the sector. Much of what they shared mirrored Jimmie’s own challenges and struggles. Each of the scholars learned about Jimmie’s life, determination and impact.

Today there is $250,000 in the Jimmie R. Alford Scholarship Fund. Fourteen scholars have benefited to date. Each year four new scholars benefit from the Fund.

As I write this I ask myself “What legacy am I intentionally creating? How lasting and impactful will it be?”

What legacy are you intentionally creating?

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to each of you! 2016 provides a new year to create new legacies and enhance already-created legacies.

Maree G. Bullock

Exploring the Benefits of Hiring Interim Staff Leadership

by Tafara Pulse

When it comes to experience, Maree Bullock has done it all during her nonprofit career.   She was Executive Director of the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation for 29 years before joining The Alford Group, and has served as a board member for many of Chicago’s esteemed not-for-profit institutions. Given her leadership skills, her extensive time as a CEO, and more recently her time as an interim executive director, I was eager to hear her perspective on how interim leadership can help strengthen an organization in transition.  I took the opportunity to sit down with her and ask a few questions about her time as Interim Executive Director for The Lake County Community Foundation (LCCF).

Maree Bullock

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2014: The Year of Action (and a few actions you can take to start the year off right)

Happy New Year from The Alford Group!

Recently in a conversation with my colleague, Tafara Pulse, Director of Marketing for The Alford Group, we were discussing themes for the coming year that would be both inspiring and useful for us as a firm and for our clients as well.  It was a fun and energizing conversation.

As we were developing ideas, she suggested that we consider 2014 The Year of Action.  She reasoned that nothing truly happens in life unless we take action – and when we do take action, results happen.  I liked what she said and I concurred with her reasoning. Continue reading

New Traditions…

Recently, The Alford Group’s Midwest Division celebrated our annual holiday luncheon. The afternoon filled with laughter, stories, and memories of our beloved founder, Jimmie Alford. As we reminisced about favorite client moments of 2013, we also recalled the many times we had each thought, “What would Jimmie do?” That had brought us much comfort as we navigated the often challenging, yet gratifying, work with our clients.

After toasting fond memories of the year, traditionally, our annual holiday celebration is coupled with a “white elephant” gift exchange. For those not familiar with the term, the rules are:

“Each participant supplies one wrapped gift. The gifts are placed in a central location, and participants determine in what order they will take turns selecting them. The first person opens a wrapped gift and the turn ends. On subsequent turns, each person opens a new present and gets the choice to keep that present or to “steal” another person’s unwrapped gift. When a person’s gift is stolen, they swap gifts with the person who is stealing their gift. The game is over when the last person has taken their turn.” ( )

This year, instead of participating in a white elephant gift exchange, we decided to embark on a new holiday gifting tradition. One of our current clients gave us the idea and we think you will enjoy the concept as well:

We asked each member of our office team to write their favorite not-for-profit organization on a slip of paper and drop it into a hat… with so many worthy organizations, this step was the most difficult! Then, we went around the table and each person drew an organization from the hat. After selecting a slip of paper, the name of the organization was read aloud and everyone had to try to guess whose charity it was. The guessing was a lot of fun and we learned which not-for-profit had touched the heart of each of our team members and why… but that’s not the best part. The final rule of the game was that each person had to make a “donation of his/her choice” to the organization she or he had drawn from the hat. It was suggested the donation be made in honor of the person who nominated that organization, if possible.

At the conclusion of our holiday gathering, we all agreed this would be our new annual holiday tradition and it was one that Jimmie Alford would have enjoyed.

May your 2014 be filled with new adventures and great success!

7 phases for strategic planning | The NonProfit Times

We thought this was an interesting read from The Nonprofit Times. The seven phases include

  • Phase One, Get Ready
  • Phase Two, Articulate Mission, Vision, and Values
  • Phase Three, Assess Your Situation
  • Phase Four, Agree on Priorities
  • Phase Five, Write the Plan
  • Phase Six, Implement the Plan
  • Phase Seven, Evaluate and Monitor the Plan

See the full article at on

There’s an old saying that says that you can’t get to where you want to go without knowing how you will get there. That’s exactly the reasoning behind strategic planning at nonprofits.

Our insight:

Just as important as WHAT TO DO in strategic planning is WHO TO INVOLVE. There are plenty of guides with step-by-step instructions on how to create your strategic plan, but we hope you’re not doing it in a vacuum! Not-for-profit strategic planning should involve the Board of Directors, key staff leadership, membership if you have it, key stakeholders, and maybe even an external advisory group comprised of strategic partners, funders, stakeholders, donors, service recipients, and more. A high level of engagement and ownership in the strategic planning process will result in a high level of ownership over and investment in the implementation of the plan.

Taxes – Why should we pay them?

Thank you to those who commented on my thoughts last week.  You had good comments and ideas.  Let me spend a few moments expanding on the recent difficulties in Washington DC due to a lack of “collaboration” and the inability to get an agreement on expanding the debt ceiling.  Hopefully we will see that impasse come to an end today or tomorrow with what could be a palatable bill for both parties.

There is a segment of the American society very adverse to taxes.  Now, I do not like paying taxes (who does?) – whenever I get my pay check I always wonder what I could do with even half the money that is deducted in social security and Federal income tax.  And then reality sets in.

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