Who’s driving the bus?

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When I was in the second grade my family moved to a new home on the outskirts of town. This change resulted in me being the farthest from my school. Consequently, I was the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped off from the school bus.

Naturally, given this new reality, I learned, like the back of my hand, our bus route, every stop.  Whenever there was a substitute bus driver, I had to sit behind him or her and guide them through the route, sharing every shortcut and advising who would be late to their stop and how to avoid pitfalls that came with going on the “main” roads.

What relevance does this have to non-profits or better yet, board governance?

The reality was that as a “director”, I was serving the main driver and everyone on that particular bus.  I wasn’t driving the bus, but rather guiding the person who was ultimately responsible.

The driver.

While I may have “directed” the driver, they were the ones who were ultimately responsible to get the bus to the correct destination, on time and safely!  I was there to advise and direct, not tell the bus driver “how” to drive but help in the execution.

Board members have a responsibility to do just that!

They are NOT to take over the wheel but direct. They are NOT to sit in the back of the bus and yell where to go but to engage and assist, sharing the pitfalls of the journey ahead.

Too often, Board members don’t know this role and want to take the steering wheel. Like the story suggests, however, it is not their wheel to assume responsibility for, that is the job of the driver in your organization–for example, the CEO or Executive Director.

Board members often want to get involved in the day to day and operational matters of the organization.

That is NOT the role of the Board member.

Board members are there to ensure vision and strategy and provide support, philanthropically and otherwise to the CEO/ED.

So, as a Board member, embrace the role of Director, which literally means to direct.

As a CEO/ED, make sure the right people are sitting behind or next to you, firmly place your hands on the wheel and drive with confidence and knowledge that it is up to you to advance the mission of your organization and all that are involved.

by: Michael Bruni, Partner, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

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Created by Culture

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My blog post last month dealt with Loyola’s successful basketball season and the character and drive that accompanied the team’s magical run to an NCAA Final Four appearance. The team’s ‘no finish line’ mantra of approaching their objectives day by day, believing in team vs individual accomplishments, and striving to learn and improve daily are all qualities we need to keep top of mind as we navigate our busy days.

A key attribute of the Loyola team and their successful historic season resulted from culture.  The tagline ‘Created by Culture’ adorned t-shirts, posters, and a social media campaign.  The culture— protect the team, no entitlement, be early— was established from the beginning, discussed often, and addressed if there was a lapse or gap throughout the season. This contributed to an overall “we are all on the same page” belief.

An organization with a strong culture based on rich values is Southwest Airlines. Annually on Fortune’s Most Admired Company list, Southwest exudes a positive culture from the flight attendants to the gate agents to the corporate employees in the Dallas HDQ. With voluntary turnover at just 2%, a positive inclusive environment reaches every piece of their business. Southwest even has a Culture Department that serves as an oversight for this critical aspect of the company.

‘Service with heart’ is what sets Southwest apart from similar companies and this philosophy is crucial in the customer service business. The Southwest culture comprises of leadership that is inclusive of employees opinions on company matters.  This sustains the organization because employees feel engaged and valued. A positive inclusive culture matters, because when employees feel like stakeholders, they continue to reinforce the values of the organization.

As leaders, we realize the importance of sustaining the culture we seek, staying aware that a one-time stellar meeting, or inspirational memo, or memorable retreat is not enough.  We need to continually communicate the importance of our values, let our team members know they are appreciated and their opinions count, and always thank them for their contribution to our successes.

by: Tim Kennedy, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Who needs to think about succession planning?  We all do!

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I am thinking about retiring in 18 months.  Do I need to think about succession planning?  YES.

My organization is relatively flat.  Do I need to think about succession planning?  YES.

My organization is small.  Do I need to think about succession planning? YES.

I have only been in my leadership role for a year.  Do I need to think about succession planning? YES.

No matter the size, stage or structure of your organization, succession planning is something that deserves your attention.  Here’s why.

We should always be thinking about the next generation of leaders.  Who will take your place when you depart?  It is prudent to consider those who could step into your position upon your departure – whether planned, as in a retirement – or unplanned, as in an unexpected illness or resignation.  You want to leave the organization – and the team – in a position to succeed in your absence.  This is also important if you are getting a promotion, as you will want someone to move into your role quickly and seamlessly so you can assume responsibility in your new position as soon as possible.

In addition, you want to be sure that the person or people who step in to assume responsibility feel prepared and at least somewhat confident.  Whenever possible, look for opportunities to include employees in various aspects of your job.  This may mean including them in the annual budgeting process, inviting them to attend a Board meeting, or participating in an external meeting with a vendor or service provider.  Take a few minutes before the meeting to “set the stage” and follow the meeting with a debrief and time to answer any questions.

We should always be thinking about employee engagement and retention.  It is especially important in a flat organization to provide opportunities for employees to develop new skills and feel like they have opportunities to grow, even if a promotion is not in the cards.  Individuals who have a chance to spend time in a different department, attend a training course or enter into a mentoring relationship will not only learn and bring new perspective to their current role, but they will likely have an increased sense of loyalty to the organization.

We should all take responsibility for succession planning.  Finally, succession planning needs to be integrated and embraced throughout the organization.  It is NOT an “HR initiative”.  In order for succession planning to work, all leaders must share responsibility for talent management, retention and growth.   Make it a priority in your organization!

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

What Legacy are You Leaving?

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One of the things we strive to do at HUB Philanthropic Solutions is to leave our clients stronger than they were when we arrived. Most fundraising consultants balance two or three clients at a time. So this is continually on my mind. I think about what am I contributing to the organization’s long-term success.  You know, things will be in place long after I move on to a different client with a different mission.

So let me offer these suggestions:

  1. Train the junior development officer – We all know nonprofit staffs are slim. But if there is anyone at your nonprofit who reports to you, train them thoughtfully and train them well. Inform them of what needs to be done — and why. Explain your strategies thoroughly. Bring them in on decisions you make and invite them to meetings. Let them stretch their wings and manage their own projects. When you have donor visit bring them along. Help them craft remarks for your next events. You are grooming them to take on more responsibility and it will make them a stronger in their support role and arm the organization with a stronger employee when it comes time for you to move on.
  1. Make Strategic Plan—Would any of us jump into the car for spring break without a plan and a plan of where we are headed? Probably not. A Strategic Plan is a road map to where your organization is going. Most strategic plans look three to five years into the future. If your nonprofit doesn’t have one, work with your Executive Director, senior leadership staff, and Board of Directors to create one. This document should outline the purpose of an organization. It should also include key strategic goals and how the organization plans to meet them. Key areas should include Programs and Development. The plan is very important. Investors and stakeholders will look at the plan to determine how likely it is to achieve success.  Plus it helps everyone to be on the same page. The structures will vary quite a bit and a quick internet search will provide several good templates to get started.
  1. Make a Development Plan – Once the strategic plan is in place, a Development Plan should then be created. The goals for the Development Plan should tie together with the Development Goals that are outlined in the Strategic Plan, but contain detailed strategies and tactics. These should be one step more detailed. At one client site, they were struggling with turnover in the Development Department, so I created the Development Plan as a sort of “how to” manual.  That way, whoever holds the position in the future will be able to carry on the activities with consistency.

Doing these simple things will bring clarity about how to spend your time to be the most effective in your role.  It will also leave your organization stronger for the future. That’s a legacy we can be proud of.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Leading vs. Managing

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Over lunch last week, one of my clients told me about the professional development work her leadership team has been doing together.  One topic which really resonated with me was understanding the difference between “leading” and “managing” a team.  The topic has been on my mind all week.  So, just for fun, I decided to look up the definition of each.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of Lead is to: “direct the operations, activity or performance of”; or “guide someone or something along the way”.

And the definition for Manage is to: “direct the professional career of”.

The difference is important.  To me, leading provides an upward and outward look.  Managing is more of a downward and inward look.

When a leader leads, they chart a course for the team, department, or organization.  A strong leader establishes and communicates direction with confidence.  In order to be successful, it is imperative for  the team to have a clear understanding of the overall objectives, so they can do their part to help achieve the desired outcomes.  A strong leader inspires people and motivates them to work towards a common goal.

When a leader manages, on the other hand, he or she provides direction and counsel to the individual.  It is the manager’s responsibility to ensure each team member knows his or her responsibilities and helps each person establish the appropriate goals and metrics.  In addition, the manager should provide on-going feedback as warranted – both positive and constructive.  Think back to your favorite manager or mentor.  What made them so good?  My guess is that he or she took the time to listen, praise, offer feedback as appropriate and gave you opportunities to succeed .

Neither role is easy.  When things get busy, we all have a tendency to revert to the roles in which we are most comfortable.  Particularly during these times, it is important to take a step back and make sure you are not only doing what is in the best interest of the organization, but what is also in the best interest of your team.  In the long run, it will benefit everyone – including you.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Clarity Matters

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All too often, when clients share their concerns with us, they lament about the performance of their Board members. Their discontent is manifest in a variety of ways, but more often than not we hear things like:

My Board never seems to come to meetings prepared, if they come at all.”

 They don’t follow through when I need them to?

Why aren’t they giving at the levels we need?

Just the other day, I was speaking with an executive director about her Board president and, while she said she knows her president is committed to the organization, her ongoing frustration relates to a lack of action. So I asked, “Is there a straight forward set of expectations for your president that you can both reference and discuss?” Does your president understand an on what you are relying on her for?

I also recently asked one of my clients if they had clear expectations for Board members and if there was a protocol in place to discuss/review those with prospective and current members. (Based on some feedback we had received regarding an upcoming campaign initiative, it was evident that Board and staff were not operating from a shared set of expectations.)

I have written in the past about how we can and must invest in building strong relationships with our Board members (“Attention Must be Paid”) and, while that is absolutely true, there is also a great deal of value in making sure that our Board members have clarity as to what is expected and needed from them to help advance your mission. If everyone isn’t operating from the same playbook, and those responsible don’t have a clear understanding of their specific roles, you are ultimately leaving your success to chance.

The good news is that establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities for your Board members is not complicated.

  • Depending on the size and structure of your Board; your governance committee, executive committee or even your chair/president and one or two other interested Board members can help you to develop criteria appropriate to you organization.
  • Board members must be involved in this process to ensure that there is ownership of the stated expecations.
  • While not an exhaustive list, your expectations should include: terms of service, meeting and special event attendance, committee service, financial support, fundraising and other ambassador roles.

Once your expectations have been approved by the board, or reaffirmed if you have them already–as it is a good idea to revisit these every couple of years, the key is to make sure that someone (Board Chair, Governance Committee Chair, Exec. Dir.) meets with each Board member on an annual basis. This provides an opportunity for the Board member to share any of their concerns, to discuss additional ways in which they think they could contribute to the organization and to make sure that the relationship is mutually beneficial.

If you have had any compelling experiences with your Board Expectations, we’d love to hear about them and share your thoughts and ideas in a future post.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Leadership Roles

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Many of my client conversations of late have been focused on Leadership…specifically, the relationship between paid leadership (staff) and volunteer leadership (Board).  Whether your organization is small, just starting out or large and well-established, it is important to periodically affirm leadership roles and responsibilities.  The delineation is pretty simple:  The Board is responsible for hiring, evaluating and, if necessary, firing the Executive Director.  They are also responsible for fiduciary oversight.  The Executive Director is responsible for everything else, which basically means overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization.

So why does it get so complicated?  Often times – whether it is because the organization is just starting out, there is a change in leadership or even when there is a very strong, collaborative relationship – the roles can become blurred.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these examples.

New Organization

If the organization is new or just starting out, those in leadership positions may be required to wear a variety of “hats”.  The Executive Director may also be recruiting Board members, overseeing the finances, establishing programs, etc.  While this structure is typical for an emerging organization, it is important to have a clear understanding of leadership roles from the outset.  Drafting job descriptions for key staff positions (Executive Director, Program Director, CFO, Director of Development) and Board members – even if those roles aren’t filled for some time – will provide clarity and serve as an objective reminder down the road.

Change in Leadership

When an Executive Director leaves the organization – particularly when it is unexpected – a Board member may volunteer to (or have to) step in and provide day-to-day oversight and sense of stability to staff members and donors alike.  While this may be appropriate, and can work for a short period, it is not an ideal arrangement for a longer period of time.  Here are a few reasons why it is not an ideal long-term solution:

  • This reporting structure can be awkward or uncomfortable for staff members
  • The Board member serving in this role may not be well-versed or equipped to handle the significant responsibilities of the Executive Director
  • Continuous transitions in leadership may be confusing for donors and other supporters

If the organization plans to launch an immediate search to replace the Executive Director, this solution is acceptable; however, if the organization needs some time to get organized, confirm direction, etc., it may be more beneficial to hire an interim Executive Director to fill this role.

Strong, Collaborative Relationship

In organizations where the Board and staff have worked together for many years, the result is typically a strong, collaborative partnership.  There is mutual trust, and often a “rhythm” in the collaboration among the leadership.  However, it is important to remember that this balance can easily shift.  For example, if the Board members start getting “in the weeds” of the day-to-day programming direction and decisions, or if they begin to tell staff members directly what to do or how to do something, the established trust can easily be broken.

So, whether your organization is new or old, big or small and whether you are new to your role or have been in it for some time, it is healthy to review roles and responsibilities with the other leadership team members periodically.  Formalizing this process (perhaps as a part of your annual goal-setting conversation) will help keep your organization humming and provide an objective way to get things back on track if the relationship starts to shift.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Are you “tough as nails” or “soft as cotton?”

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As a CEO, or Executive Director, how would others describe you? Charismatic…pushy…a visionary?

What would your donors and staff say about you?

I’ve worked with many nonprofit leaders. A few have fallen into one of two distinct camps: Tough as nails or soft as cotton.

So which is best?

The soft as cotton leader was magnetic, warm, and a great listener.  He ruled with his heart and hired individuals he knew and trusted to run the organization he founded. Some of the staff members were friends who lacked a nonprofit background.  But he was confident they would find a way to reach the organization’s goals.   He was a consensus builder and attracted donors that inherently trusted him to make the right decisions for the organization.

On the other hand, the tough as nails leader didn’t always entertain the opinions of everyone around the table.  She would not be described as a consensus builder, but was intelligent and made swift decisions.  People might call her firm, but fair. She too, put the mission of the organization first.

These two people are opposites in my mind, but it takes all kinds of leaders to make the world go round right? So which ED would you trust to use your hard eared, donations wisely? Who would seek to guide your organization into the future?

You see, the warm, magnetic leader didn’t put the right people into the right positions to lead the organization. He ruled too much with his heart and not enough with his head.  This jeopardized the mission.

The tough as nails leader earned my dollar, my respect, my time.

I trusted this leader to sidestep emotions that might develop during tough decision and keep the mission of the organization first. As an individual, her magnetism was easily rivaled, but as a leader, she was solid, believable, and trustworthy.

Each of us has an impact on the level of trust that donors have in our organizations. Find the style that works best for you.  Most importantly be the type of leader you would follow.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Transitions

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My wife and I aren’t the biggest TV watchers beyond the nightly news, a White Sox game and the occasional political news station, however, we have recently been engrossed with the Netflix biographical drama The Crown. We’re just a few episodes into the first season where the show highlights Queen Elizabeth’s sudden ascension of power soon after her father King George VI passes away.

One of the key themes is the many transitions that take place because of the new leadership. We see promotions and demotions with the new assistants, deputies and private aides which lead to a lot of uncertainty. It’s no different when changes happen at a non-profit. When a new President, department head or manager joins the team, there is without a doubt change that will transpire. The changes mostly likely aren’t going to be made overnight but change is inevitable.

One of the roles we can play and assist with during these times of transition is making sure the new team members are properly informed on the institutional background of the organization. Yes, they will have to do their own homework, learn the systems and especially familiarize themselves with the many stakeholders but taking the time to provide them with your knowledge is the right thing to do personally and for the organization.

Transition without solid communication is a recipe for confusion and frustration. It is essential to keep the lines of communication open as there will most likely be anxiety amongst the team and employees will require some time to engage the newness. Transitions are hard on everyone and making sure that everyone is informed can be an easy win to avoid pessimists and unnecessary conversation. If you aren’t in a position of authority you should speak up and ask questions so you are informed.

For transitions that are self-induced, they should be handled skillfully as your reputation is on the line. Think back on the time you joined the organization and how well or how poorly the transition went. It’s important to make sure you are leaving your replacement and team in good hands so any required reports or notes that are provided are completed with accuracy and are on point.

Assisting in the transition no matter what role you play or what level you are in the organization is everyone’s job. As I’ve witnessed in The Crown and in work evolutions I’ve been a part of, support and most of all trust are required ingredients to have in a successful and smooth transition.

 by: Tim Kennedy, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Seasoned and Green

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Is your current Board comprised of established members – constituents who have been a part of your organization for a decade or longer?  Over the past few weeks, I have found myself in conversation with several non-profit leaders where this topic has been raised.  The consistent concerns are twofold:

  1. How do we continue to engage this important (and aging) group; and
  2. How do we attract and engage the “next generation” of leaders?

Let’s take the first group first.  Obviously, it is important to continue to recognize and thank your faithful leaders.  But it is also important to read their cues.  In other words, do you have a Board member who is getting tired?  Is he/she hinting that it may be time to take a less active role with the organization?  The best approach is simply to have a conversation with this person.  Invite him/her for coffee or lunch and listen.  Ask open-ended questions.  Find out how they would like to stay engaged and informed.

If your organization does not have one, perhaps you should consider creating an Advisory Council or a President’s Council.  Designed to meet the needs of your organization and a select group of constituents, this type of “board” typically meets only once a year for lunch and a “state of the organization”-type presentation.  In addition, the members of this Council may be consulted occasionally for advice or assistance.  This arrangement is typically a “win-win” for members and the organization alike.

It is equally important to “listen” to the senior Board members who want to continue to be active and engaged.  Unfortunately, I have seen active Board members forced to “resign” to a role as a Life Trustee – or something less meaningful – as a way to open a Board spot for someone else.  This can be a big mistake, as some may take offense and become less engaged, both with their time and their resources.

In terms of attracting the “next generation” – it is also important to listen and understand what type of volunteer work they are interested in and what role they may want to play with the organization.  It’s typically a good idea to find more entry level roles for younger constituents – perhaps they can help with a benefit or serve on a Junior Board.  This helps both the volunteer and the organization get acquainted before making a potentially bigger commitment, such as a Board role.  It is also fun to identify and cultivate family members – children or other relatives of Board members or volunteers –  as they typically have a good understanding of the mission and may be interested in developing a relationship with the organization as well.

In any of these scenarios, it is often just a matter of observing, asking good questions – and truly listening to the needs and interests of your constituents.  Which simply translates into good development.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions