Your Board is NOT the Enemy!

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A Simple Way to Conduct an Executive Director Performance Review

simple executive director performance review

Time and time again, I see boards dropping the ball on one of the single most important responsibilities they have – the annual performance evaluation of their staff leader.

It just plain makes me mad.

I do kinda get it when board members balk at fundraising. But an annual performance review? Really?

When I ask board members how they would feel if their bosses (at their day job) did that, I get the answer you’d expect. That would never happen.

In my executive coaching work with clients, it is so clear to me that Executive Directors do not receive the feedback they need to feel supported and to grow and develop in their roles.

I ask: When were you last reviewed?

I hear: Does a 20-minute coffee with the board chair count?

I hear: The board really doesn’t know what I do. How could they evaluate me fairly? I’d prefer not to hear what they have to say.

I hear: I had to all but harass my board chair to do SOMETHING. It was like 3 months late and kind of lame.

I hear: I was reviewed informally by the board chair before this one. Or maybe the one before that one.

I hear: Reviewed?

I believe there are many reasons that boards don’t conduct performance reviews – I outline a few of them here.

But let’s assume for the purpose of this post that it just all seems too overwhelming. Board members don’t know where to begin.

In that spirit I offer you a recipe for an effective, and very simple Executive Director performance review.Continue Reading

How to Conduct Your Executive Director’s Annual Review

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It’s Time for You to Do SOMETHING!

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The Move from Corporate to Nonprofit

new ceo with no nonprofit experience

We are on the cusp of a huge leadership gap in the nonprofit sector as more and more boomer leaders retire. Search committees and executive recruiters will need to look at more and diverse ponds for leadership candidates. As a result, we see (and will continue to see) lots of “fishing” in corporate America ponds.

Unfortunately, nonprofits are not always welcoming of folks without years in the nonprofit trenches. As a product, originally, of the corporate world, I remember that pretty well.

There were folks who saw me as unqualified, without the “chops” for the gig. I hadn’t paid my dues. I didn’t understand or appreciate the trenches and there was of course a risk that I just might attempt to inject an “evil” corporate paradigm into the consensus driven world of advocacy. This skepticism even found its way into the press.

Ridiculous, right? Infuriating, yes? Especially when this criticism comes from your own community, the one you have raised your hand to advocate for. I only wanted to help.

But there is no question – you absolutely can transition to nonprofit leadership and be successful with no prior professional nonprofit experience. I did it.

So, at the risk of overstepping, I’d like to tell you about a few of the lessons I learned and pitfalls I overcame. It might come in handy if you are hunting for a new leader or if you are this new leader I describe.

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A Foolproof Way to Get Board Members to Open Their Rolodex

board member contacts

“Can you look through your contacts and identify folks you will talk to about our organization? We need names.”

In a heartbeat, every one of your board members becomes a monk. Friendless loners who live under rocks.

That’s not entirely fair. Some board members have like two friends.

Why does this happen? Type-A, successful people, interested in the wellbeing of others and willing to serve can’t identify 5 or 10 people who would be willing to have a conversation about people doing something good? What an amazing opportunity to avoid cable news!

Guess what? Your board members do not live under rocks. You CAN get them to share their contacts.

Today, I offer you a new approach to this paralyzing question and a downloadable template I use with clients that actually works.

==> Download my foolproof board contacts template here

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The Case of the Clueless New Board Member

Transcript below:

Welcome to The Case of the Clueless New Board Member. Here’s the question we tackle today: How do you set a clueless new board member up for success, as someone who understands and appreciates his or her fundraising obligation? First, let’s talk about the problem, the root problem. When you put together a nominations committee, you don’t usually include your best fundraisers, because they’re over on the development committee. So the people on the nominations committee are usually your worst fundraisers, so when the recruit asks a question like, “Tell me about the fundraising obligation,” you probably get something like this, “Oh, staff does all that. Don’t worry about it. It’s really, really easy. You know, I hate fundraising, myself.”Continue Reading

It’s Time to Stop Using This Word

You know there’s a word I hear a lot from board and staff members of nonprofits, and it kind of drives me nuts. Actually makes me a little bit angry. Would you like to take a guess at what the word is? I’ll give you a minute. Why don’t you toss some ideas in the comments below? I’ll wait. The word that drives me crazy makes me kind of angry. One word. Almost ready?

The word is competition. When I first became a nonprofit executive director, I was floored at how often I heard this one word, competition. “Oh, she’s not gonna give to her organization because she already gives to XYZ org.” Or “What is that ED working tables at my fundraising gala?” Or the board members are bringing in news clippings or see things online where your colleague is quoted and not you. Right? You’ve been there.

So first, if your organization does not fill a unique gap in a sector or has some substantive overlap with another organization, could you just fix that? Address the problem, not the symptom. Secondly, considering an organization to be competitive misses the true essence of philanthropy. It was taught to me a long time ago by a mentor. She sat me down with her major donor list, we ordered in Chinese, and we looked through the list. She said, “Mary’s gonna really like what you’re doing,” or “Tom is in the entertainment business and he was really anxious for new leadership. I need to introduce you to those two people, and I think there are some others on the list too.” She understood what other leaders miss.

When you introduce people to the power of giving, guess what happens? It makes them feel good. Like, good good, like scientifically good. Like philanthropy actually releases dopamine in your brain, the neurotransmitter that creates pleasure. Amazing, right?

Here’s the other thing, is when you get invested in the sector, you care about a lot of organizations because the more you understand about how important the work is, the more you understand that it has to be tackled from different perspectives. So the big takeaway is that rising tides lift all those. Specifically, eliminate the word competition. Keep your mission clear and focused, and lastly, play nicely in your sector sandbox.

Share this video with your development committee, with your board, and remind them, “Please, all of you remember, you are part of a movement working to create real and lasting change.” You’re part of a movement, an orchestra of organizations, tackling the same issue from a host of different perspectives. Making real and lasting change, it takes a village.

Board Retreats Done Right

board retreat

Have you ever gone to a board retreat?

Close your eyes for a moment and think back to the last one you attended.

Maybe it was last year, maybe a few years back. Try to remember the basic contours of the agenda. Or better still, something that changed as a result.


Get in line. Here are some things board members have told me about their most recent board retreats:

“It was fine.” 

“I wonder if we ever did anything with the flip chart stuff and the action items.”

“I remember we had a really great strategic visioning conversation, though I’m struggling to remember the details and I have no idea if anything actually came of it.”

You’ve invested all this time and money. Your board members gave up a Friday night and full day on Saturday. And yet, just months later, they can barely even remember the agenda, much less any outcomes.

Wow. This is NOT OK!

Look, here’s the truth. Most board retreats really are just fine. They’re not disasters. If they were, board members would actually remember a whole lot more about them!

Really, though, most board retreats are wildly mediocre.

But we can do a lot better.

We can create board retreats that are valuable, memorable, and actionable.

That leave board members with a sense of camaraderie, pride about the work, and an urgency to be great ambassadors.

Today, I offer some practical advice and a downloadable agenda for a retreat that does exactly that.

==> Download the sample five-star board retreat agenda

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The Case of the Board Member Hunt

Transcript below:

Hi. Joan Garry here, answering questions that board and staff members at nonprofits ask me, quite literally, all the time. I get emails. I can’t answer them all. I’m hoping that maybe in these Q and A, I stumble upon the question you yourself might have. Trust me, if you’ve got it, so do many others. I treat these a little bit like cases, like I’m one of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or something, so this one, we call The Case of the Board Member Hunt.

Of all the questions I am asked, I believe this must be the most common: help me find board members. Actually, that’s not a question. That’s a statement. Can you help me find board members? Here are three good tips. Number one, stop asking the question so generally. Can you help me find board members? That means that you go to a board meeting, and you say, “Hey, does anyone know of someone who would be a good board member?” That is a paralyzing question. In general, if you ask that question that abstractly, you will paralyze board members, who will think only that you want people who are rich or know others who are. Trust me, that’s not what you’re looking for. Think about this like you’re directing a play. You can’t walk into a room and say, “I’m directing a play, and I need some actors.” You have to be specific about the kinds of roles you’re looking for the actors to play.

Number two, make intentional time for either as a full board, or as a subset of the board, to sit and think about only this: what would the ideal board of our organization look like? What skills, experience, expertise, competencies, attributes would the ideal board have? Figure out which of those you have, based on your current board, and then make a list of the gaps. It is those gaps that then become the roles that you will cast for. You can then begin to say, “We really need someone who knows something about strategic planning.” Maybe you can go to a large strategic planning firm in your city and ask one of the minority affinity groups to help you find a board member who’s a junior planner who would be just right for a small board. Once you know what role you’re casting for, there’s all different places you can look for those folks, and different ways you can look for people who bring different things to the table and diversity in its broadest definition.

Number three is engage your board in discussions outside of the board room, to reshape how other people see board service. I think that there are a skajillion people that oughta be on boards, a skajillion people who think they are ill-qualified because their neither rich, nor do they think they know rich people. They don’t understand what board service is, the privilege it is, what it feels like to be part of a board, and that it’s about inviting people of all sorts to know more and do more. One thing leads to another, that leads to another, and you’re building an army, and sometimes members of that army even have money.

Stop asking the question generally. Make intentional time to sit down and think about what gaps in skills, expertise, competencies, and attributes are, where are your gaps? Then start casting for those roles.

The third is be part of the solution. People don’t choose to be on boards, not always because they don’t have time. It’s because they don’t understand what an incredible joy and privilege it can be, and they think they have to be rich or know someone who is. All they need to do is be in love with your organization and be an ambassador to talk about the work of the organization to as many people as possible. It’s that simple.
We answer a lot of questions in our Facebook group at Thriving Nonprofits with Joan Garry. Head on over there and join the 11,000 folks who are there, and learn from and support each other there. You’ll find a weekly blog post from me that usually has practical and actionable advice, and a story or two that might make you laugh, and it might provide you with a kick in the pants and a shot in the arm. You can find that at joangarry, with two Rs, .com. See ya next time